Expos' chronicler starting foundation to raise money to combat all cancers

Russ Hansen (left) pictured her with his longtime friend Gary Carter is starting up a foundation to raise funds that will fight all kinds of cancer. Photo supplied by Russ Hansen.

Russ Hansen (left) pictured her with his longtime friend Gary Carter is starting up a foundation to raise funds that will fight all kinds of cancer. Photo supplied by Russ Hansen.

By Danny Gallagher

Canadian Baseball Network

Russ Hansen was heartbroken when friend and Montreal Expos catching legend Gary Carter died of brain tumours way too soon at 57 on February 16, 2012.

Hansen noticed that other major leaguers were dying of the same dilemma and he has decided he wants to do something about it. The long-time Expos chronicler and photographer from Windsor, Ont. is starting a foundation to raise money to combat all cancers with funds utilized for education, pre-and-post cancer research and equipment.

Maybe someday, someone will figure out what exactly caused Carter to get his tumours.

Did Carter's use of cell phones pressed against his head lead to his tumours and ultimate death?

Did chemicals from the artificial turf Carter played on at Olympic Stadium and in U.S. parks lead to those tumours?

Could something like quasi-concussions lead to those tumours? Yes, we are aware knocks on the head can lead to dementia but what about tumours themselves? Carter played in close to 2,300 games as a catcher for the Expos and other teams. Could the mere theory of him pulling a mask over his face and part of his head for close to 20 seasons have some bearing on his brain problems? Balls rattled off his mask and he collided every so often with runners coming home. He played the dirtiest position in the game.

The answer to all these theories? Possible.

Carter was busy, busy in the aftermath of his brilliant playing career so it wasn't uncommon for him to have a cell phone stuck in one of his ears as he talked about upcoming appearances, autograph sessions, chatting with family members, former teammates or his players on the baseball team he coached at Palm Beach Atlantic University in south Florida.

Before and after his funeral in February of 2012, people were chatting outside the church and the theory was thrown out that excessive use of his cell phone was a contributing factor, maybe not 100%, to his brain tumours.

Friends of Carter say he was one of the very first people to purchase a mobile phone when they became available decades ago. He was on the phone often.

It is known that cell phones emit radio-frequency energy, a form of non-ionizing radiation, from their antennas. Tissues, such as ears and the brain's lobes, nearest to the antenna can absorb this energy.  

In May 2011, Carter was diagnosed with four malignant tumors in his brain after experiencing headaches and forgetfulness. He tried every available form of treatment and travelled far and wide to U.S. markets outside his south Florida residential area for opinions and treatment options in a valiant attempt to beat his devastating illness. 

Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, the home of the famous Durham Bulls' minor-league baseball team, is believed to be the only medical institution that publicly revealed it had treated Carter and this information was disclosed, with approval from the Carter family. Duke staff said Carter was suffering from Stage 4 cancer.

At the time, Allen Friedman and Henry Friedman, co-deputy directors of Duke's Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumour Centre, said in a statement: "The results of biopsies performed on the tumour in Gary Carter's brain have conclusively shown that Mr. Carter has a glioblastoma. While surgery is not a good option given the location of the tumour, we discussed an aggressive treatment plan with Mr. Carter and his family, which will include chemotherapy and radiation. Mr. Carter's youth, strong physical condition and fighting spirit will be to his advantage as his treatment commences."

Some nine months after the diagnosis, Carter was dead.

Jeff Reardon, a teammate of Carter's with the Expos from 1981-84 and a neighbour of his in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. from 1981-2012, said he hadn't heard anything about the cell phone connection.

After a number of attempts, I got in touch with Dr. David Ashley, the director of pediatric neuro-oncology for Duke's brain tumour centre since 2017. He's considered an international leader in pediatric brain tumour research and the former chair of medicine and director of the Andrew Love Cancer Centre at Australia's Deakin University.

Although he didn't speak about Carter specifically due to confidentiality reasons, Ashley deflected the theory of cell phones contributing to brain tumours.

"It's an absolutely difficult thing to prove,'' Dr. Ashley told me. "Brain tumours can happen to anyone. It's just one of those things. There is no one thing that causes brain tumours. There's no evidence that cell phone use can lead to brain tumours. There was a Scandanavian study done a few years that concluded that cell phone use was not a meaningful cause.''

Now, what about the chemicals in artificial turf?

"What was the commonality between Gary Carter and other major-league personnel?'' Hansen posed.

“Gary Carter, Tug McGraw, Dick Howser, Dan Quisenberry, Johnny Oates, John Vukovich, Bobby Murcer, Ken Brett and Darren Daulton all died of glioblastoma and all of them played or coached or managed on artificial turf,’’ Hansen said.

All were in their 50s except for Murcer, 62, and Quisenberry, 45. All gone too soon.

Hansen wonders if there were chemicals causing the tumours. The New York Times zeroed in on the possible link in a story published in August of 2017, shortly after Daulton died. Daulton, McGraw and Vukovich all played on the artificial turf at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. There certainly was irony but the Times story didn't reach any conclusions.

Russ Hansen (left) with Gary Carter in 1978. Photo: Russ Hansen

Russ Hansen (left) with Gary Carter in 1978. Photo: Russ Hansen

Hansen befriended Carter after the catcher invited Hansen to come to an Expos game in August 1978 to do photography for the Carter family. At the time, Hansen was living in Gananoque, Ont., located about a three-hour drive from Montreal.

As for concussions having some sort of effect leading to tumours, former Expos trainer Ron McClain has never heard of this theory.

"I do not know of any reason,'' McClain said. "Concussions, 20 years of catching and so on have never been a known reason for brain tumours. No one that I know of has alluded to those reasons. Doctors have no idea what causes brain tumours. I really don't think anyone knows what caused Gary's brain tumours.''

Messages left by me with a number of members of the Carter clan in Florida and California went unanswered.

Hansen has long had a great interest in the topic of philanthropy and wants to do something about making awareness of glioblastoma. Hansen already has experience in fundraising. He was a founding member of the board of directors for the foundations at General Hospital in Belleville, Ont. and Loyalist College in Belleville.

Over 30 years ago during Hansen's insurance and estate planning career, Carter challenged and mentored Hansen to become involved in Planned Giving.

At the time, Carter was heavily involved with the American Leukemia Society because he had lost his mother to leukemia when he was 12 years old. Now a cancer survivor himself after a bout with prostate problems, Hansen realized that Major League Baseball supports breast cancer for Mother’s Day and prostate cancer for Father’s Day.

However, there are over 30 different types of cancers. Hansen decided that when life deals you a lemon you should make lemonade. That is why he is teaming up with his love of sports to support all cancers with his foundation Club C. His hope is to create partnerships with all of the major sports to create a movement that will touch anyone, whose life has been affected by glioblastoma and other cancers.

Russ Hansen (right) with Gary Carter in 1995.

Russ Hansen (right) with Gary Carter in 1995.

Hansen's first boyhood hero was hockey great Bobby Orr but then Carter came along. When Carter died, Hansen was devastated.

"I had faith that Gary was going to get better,'' Hansen said. "He was larger than life and I thought he was going to beat this thing. Near the end, I was in contact with Andre Dawson and he had seen Gary about a week before he died.

"I knew the end was near so it kind of hit home about how fragile life is, that nobody is invincible. Someone that young is not supposed to pass away, not a 57-year-old super hero. My childhood hero was gone.''

Danny Gallagher's upcoming book is called Blue Monday: The Expos, the Dodgers and the Home Run That Changed Everything. Gary Carter was a major part of that 1981 Expos quad. You can pre-order the book online.