"Diagnosed and treated by a qualified team of professionals, I benefitted from the advancements in cancer research.”

Rene was referring to his battle with throat cancer in 1999, which, after “a batter of invasive, sometimes painful procedures,” including 38 rounds of radiation and chemotherapy, doctors declared was in remission.

Only seven months after Angélil’s speech, in April 2013, the world learned his cancer had returned. He underwent emergency surgery to remove a tumour from this throat later that year. Despite the best efforts of his doctors, the cancer progressed and spread to other parts of his body.

The Montréal-born impresario, best-known for managing the career of his wife Céline Dion, died this past January, leaving behind six children and a grieving family.

Angélil’s efforts

In life, Angélil was a true humanitarian. He was a loving husband and father, a pioneer of the Canadian music industry, and a leader in the cancer research community — where he acted as a major source of hope for patients with head and neck cancer. 

Indeed, spurred by his comeback from cancer in the late-90s, Angélil devoted himself to supporting cancer research, funding numerous charities including the CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation, and helping to establish the very first oral cancer research chair at the Université de Montréal.

“Fighting cancer is challenging. If my participation in this chair can encourage those who have it to fight, then I have raised my bet,” Angélil said.

Prevalence in Canada

Many are not aware of the risk, but oral cancer is a devastating and often deadly disease that affects more and more people each year.

Close to 5,000 Canadians will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. It will cause more than 1,200 deaths, killing roughly 1 person every 8 hours. Of those 5,000 newly diagnosed individuals, only slightly more than half will be alive in 5 years.

If caught early, patient survival rates can be relatively high. Currently, however, oral cancer is often identified late and is usually at an advanced stage by the time it’s noticed by either patients or medical professionals.

Recognized for his work

Angélil was recognized in late-2012 by the Order of Canada for his efforts to raise awareness of the dangers of oral cancer. He hoped that through his work Canadians would be more prudent in avoiding certain risk factors, such as smoking and unhealthy diet, and get themselves screened more frequently.

Despite his untimely death, his dedication to fighting oral cancer lives on in the message he shared: “There is still so much work ahead of us. I thank you all for your perseverance, leadership, and dedication to this global fight.”