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Gary Mason

JOHN LEHMANN/JOHN LEHMANN/GLOBE AND MAIL

This is not the way Jack Poole had planned to spend July - moving gingerly about his home the way one might after a surgeon has rooted around inside you for five hours removing a tumour.

No, the chairman of the 2010 Vancouver Organizing Committee was hoping his cancer-fighting days were over. That the ordeal the 76-year-old businessman endured in 2007 in his battle with pancreatic cancer would be his last. And that a scheduled checkup this month would reveal that against the odds he was cancer free.

It didn't work out that way.

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Mr. Poole is confronting his old foe again - for a third time. He beat prostate cancer 20 years ago. But in the summer of 2007 he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer - one of the deadliest forms of the disease.

The survival rate is less than 5 per cent in most cases. After a complex surgery, Mr. Poole underwent an unusually hostile therapy regime at a Seattle hospital that involved being blasted with a combination of radiation and chemotherapy for 40 straight days. It put him on his knees most days. He lost 30 pounds.

At a checkup earlier this year, he was cancer free. If he was judged to be the same way this month, he told me in February, there was an 80 per cent chance he'd be cured. Instead, on July 1, he was being operated on to remove a cancerous tumour. Surgeons were unable to remove a second one found inside his intestine.

The doctors don't know if the tumour left behind is cancerous. But the one that was removed contained pancreatic cancer cells.

When I talked to Mr. Poole yesterday he sounded tired but as upbeat as ever.

"This is not the way the story was supposed to go," he laughed. "Recovery is taking longer than expected, but I'm getting a little better day by day. It's baby steps, as they say. But I hope to be back to work soon. You know, you just deal with what you're handed. You have no choice, do you?"

The news has devastated many of those who work at VANOC, none more than John Furlong, the president and CEO. It was Mr. Poole who decided to give Mr. Furlong a shot at running the organization, against the advice of many in the Vancouver business community who said he wasn't experienced enough.

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As he has often throughout his life, Jack Poole proved the critics wrong.

Mr. Poole was B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell's first choice to guide the province's Olympic bid back in 2001. Most agree that without his charisma - friends say he has the kind of charm John F. Kennedy had - and his legendary powers of persuasion, Vancouver would likely not have been awarded the Games. His chairmanship will undoubtedly be the last entry in one of the most impressive job resumés in the country.

Mr. Poole was the driving force behind Daon Development Corp., which grew to become the second-largest development company in North American in the early 1980s. As spectacular as its rise was its fall in 1982, when interest rates topped 20 per cent.

Daon owed $2.3-billion to 47 banks and couldn't pay the interest. Mr. Poole's personal wealth went from a paper worth of $100-million to a negative worth of $5-million.

Eventually, he worked out a deal with the banks, which got their money back over time. Mr. Poole would later move on to form Concert Properties, another Canadian business success story. He recently resigned as chairman, turning the reins over to his protégé, David Podmore.

Mr. Poole is coy about whether he'll carry the Olympic torch through his hometown of Mortlach, Sask., population 254. That is where he was raised in a house with no electricity or running water. He graduated second in his class in Grade 12 - right behind the only other person in it, Helen Forbes.

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In an earlier conversation, Mr. Poole expressed concern about how it might look if he carried the torch at some point. I said there wasn't a person in the country who would begrudge him that moment, given everything he'd done to help bring the Olympics to Canada.

His annual bill for doing the chairman's job is $1. He also insisted on paying all his own expenses.

Those who know Jack Poole best have been amazed by the utter lack of self-pity he's demonstrated throughout his recent trials with cancer. He's handled it like the stoic westerner that he is. In fact, he's handled it better than many of his friends.

John Furlong is genuine when he said to me the other day: "I wish I could take some of this away for him. It's all too much for one good man to endure."

Later, Mr. Furlong wrote back to say that if I included any of his comments in this column, that I made sure to convey that he's nothing but completely confident Jack Poole will win this cancer fight the way he has the others.

"Underestimating Jack Poole?" Mr. Furlong said. "Not in this lifetime. The man is made of iron."

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