When TSN 1050’s Mike Richards learned he had rectal cancer, he briefly considered keeping the diagnosis private, knowing it might make others squeamish to hear about it.

Instead, he’s decided to talk about it openly, and to help other patients access the innovative surgical technique he believes helped save his life.

Before his diagnosis last winter, the 51-year-old Richards admits he almost never went to the doctor.

“I joke about it, but probably the last time I had a physical was the year Paul Henderson scored against the Russians (in 1972),” he told CTV’s Canada AM Friday.

But after noticing a pink mucous in his stool, he knew he needed to get checked. Richards was familiar with colon cancer because his sister-in-law had Stage 4 of the disease and would die just a few weeks after his own diagnosis.

Still, Richards admits he was stunned when he learned just before the winter holidays that he had a malignant tumour about the size of a baseball in his rectum.

Doctors informed him he would have to begin chemotherapy and radiation right away.

“It was as dark and as black a Christmas as I could have,” he told his radio listeners on Thursday.

As Richards prepared for the surgery, his surgical oncologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Dr. Shady Ashamalla, told him he would be using a new technique to make the surgery as non-invasive as possible. In fact, just weeks before, Ashamalla had taken part in a live-tweeting of a similar surgery.

Colectomy surgeries have typically used a long abdominal incision that resulted in a lengthy recovery time for patients.

“Historically, this surgery has been done with a big midline, up-and-down incision up the abdomen and the rectum was removed through the pelvis,” Ashamalla told Canada AM.

The newer approach uses laparoscopic instruments to remove the tumours through the anus, not the abdomen.

“It’s almost an oxymoron: trans-anal minimally invasive surgery. Bbut compared to the alternative, it’s almost unbelievable because there is no incision,” he said.

After the surgery, patients typically can be fitted with a temporary colostomy bag attached to a stoma, or hole, in their pelvis. That allows the colon to heal.

“When you think about it, it’s all just plumbing,” Ashamalla explained. “The tumour takes up a portion of that plumbing. That piece of the pipe needs to be removed and then we put the two ends together.”

The colostomy bag is then worn for three or four months to prevent stool from going through that connection. Richards still has his bag, but hopes to have surgery in December to allow it to be removed.

With recovery now in sight, Richards is now hoping to allow more patients to have access to the surgery he says he was lucky to have. He’s starting a foundation with NHL great Doug Gilmour to bring surgeons from across the country to Sunnybrook so that they can be trained in the technique.

As well, they hope their foundation will help pay to bring the families of patients from all across Ontario to come to Toronto for the surgery.

Richards admits he briefly considered telling his listeners he had had knee surgery which was why he was off the air for three months. Instead, he’s decided to be open about his cancer, to encourage men like him to see their doctor for colon cancer screening, and to try to help others access the lifesaving care he’s received.