Rob Ford faces more than a month of chemotherapy treatment for a rare form of cancer with an election less than six weeks away.
The mayor has a malignant liposarcoma, a “very rare and a very difficult tumour,” said Dr. Zane Cohen, the renowned colorectal surgeon in charge of the mayor’s medical team at Mt. Sinai Hospital.
A week after news that a tumour was discovered in Ford’s abdomen, Cohen said the cancer has spread. A second, smaller tumour was discovered in the mayor’s buttocks, behind his left hip.
“It’s fairly aggressive, but we are treating this very aggressively in order to eradicate the tumour,” the doctor told reporters in a packed meeting room across from the hospital’s main campus. “It comprises about 1 per cent only of all cancers.”
Cohen said a second biopsy done on Monday, after the first biopsy proved inconclusive, revealed the cancer. Ford and his family learned the news in the last 72 hours.
“My brother has been diagnosed with cancer and I can’t begin to share how devastating this has been for Rob and our family. He is an incredible person, husband, father, brother and son and he remains upbeat and determined to fight this,” said Doug Ford in an emailed statement.
Doug Ford replaced his younger brother on the mayoral ballot last week, just days after the tumour was first discovered.
“Rob has always been so strong for all of us and now I ask us all to be strong for him. Your kind words and well wishes mean everything to him right now. Rob will beat this,” Ford said.
Cohen said they are “optimistic” about treating this particular type of cancer — pleomorphic liposarcoma — and that it is the most “sensitive” to chemotherapy.
In the next 48 hours, Ford will begin two rounds of chemotherapy, each to last three days followed by 18 days of a “washout” period. After doctors examine the tumour again, they will decide whether more chemotherapy is needed or if surgery is required, Cohen said.
The mayor may be able to continue working — and campaigning, now that he has put his name into the councillor race for his old seat in Ward 2 (Etobicoke North).
“I think he’s a pretty strong person,” Cohen said of Ford. “He may be able to work through it. I think that he will be able to be functional, but he’s going to have some rough days.”
Cohen also said Mt. Sinai is one of the largest of Ontario’s three sarcoma centres and houses sarcoma treatment and research experts.
Ford, 45, has two children under the age of 10.
His cancer diagnosis now leaves some uncertainty in the Ward 2 race. Though early polls indicated Ford could easily win his old seat from a hospital bead, he faces several competent competitors — including businessman Andray Domise, a realtor and a Toronto Community Housing board member.
Ford took the place of his 20-something nephew Michael Ford on the Ward 2 ballot after stepping back from the mayor’s race.
Last week, Ford said he was “unable to commit to the heavy schedule required for a mayoral candidate” but was able to run for council.
“I could be facing a battle of my lifetime, and I want the people of Toronto to know that I intend to face this challenge head on, and win,” he said in his statement last week.
A political source told the Star that Rob Ford’s switch from the mayoral race to one for a councillor seat was meant to give Ford something to fight for as he faces this health crisis.
Ford earlier told the Sun his lungs were biopsied this week, which Cohen said is incorrect.
In 2009, Ford also told several news outlets he had a tumour removed from his appendix. Cohen said that is not true. Ford had appendicitis.
The Fords’ father, former MPP Doug Ford Sr., died of colon cancer in 2006, three months after he was diagnosed.
“The most important thing, most important thing, is your health,” Ford said in a speech at the wedding of assistant Jerry Agyemang in August. “Friends, you can have everything in the world. If you haven’t got your health you don’t have very much.”
Behind-the-scenes this week, political insiders and those close to Ford quietly struggled with the cancer news.
“It's the worst possible scenario,” a source close to the mayor told the Star on Tuesday.
A somber procession of Ford’s mother, brothers, wife and nephew have been streaming in and out of the hospital daily since he was admitted to Mt. Sinai last week.
“We have a lot of faith in the doctors and we have a lot of faith in God,” Ford’s wife Renata said a few hours before the press conference on Wednesday.
The news of Ford’s condition has also created a dilemma for mayoral candidates, who once faced off against Ford and have yet to meet brother Doug Ford on the campaign trail.
A debate planned by the real estate industry Wednesday evening was postponed in a joint decision by candidates John Tory, Olivia Chow and organizers.
Both Chow and Tory spoke just outside city hall following the announcement on Ford’s condition.
“I think in the end here today we’re thinking about the Ford family,” Tory said. “It’s not the day to analyze all these things, it’s rather a day to express our concern and express a thought and . . . solidarity.”
Chow said she emphasized as a cancer survivor and widow of the late Jack Layton, who died of cancer in 2011.
“I know Rob Ford is strong. He’s a fighter,” she said. “Keep a hopeful attitude. Be stubborn. Be determined. Be courageous and say I can beat this and it will happen.”
On Wednesday, there were messages of support for Ford from all political arenas.
“I was deeply saddened today to learn that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been diagnosed with a rare type of cancer and that he will have to undergo chemotherapy,” said Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a statement. “We wish him a speedy and complete recovery and are certain that he will take on this fight with all of his characteristic tenacity and energy.”
At Queen’s Park, Premier Kathleen Wynne joined the chorus of well wishes for the ailing mayor.
“My sincere hope is that Mayor Ford can beat this and my thoughts are with him and his family. I know he’s been receiving a great number of good wishes,” Wynne said in a statement. “Those thoughtful words — along with the care of the team at Mount Sinai — are sure to help set him on the road to restored health.”
Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who has assumed most of the mayor’s powers since Ford was stripped of them last year, also sent words of encouragement.
“Those who know Rob, know that he never backs down from a tough fight. Like every challenges he takes on, I know he will fight until he wins,” Kelly said. “I encourage all Torontonians to wish Rob well as he faces this challenge in the days and weeks ahead.”
Though Doug Ford promised to start campaigning this week, he has yet to participate in any events or debates. A Twitter account and temporary campaign website appeared online on Wednesday.
A second Ford Fest BBQ originally planned for Friday was also postponed ahead of Wednesday’s announcement.
Ford remains the mayor until Dec. 1, when a mayor-elect takes over the office.
With files from Daniel Dale, Betsy Powell, Paul Moloney, Robert Benzie and Katrina Clarke