In recognition of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, Fruitvale resident Jack LaRocque wants people to know that anyone can be affected by lung cancer, even non-smokers. Photo: Jim Bailey

In recognition of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, Fruitvale resident Jack LaRocque wants people to know that anyone can be affected by lung cancer, even non-smokers. Photo: Jim Bailey

Kootenay man shares experience, non-smokers get lung cancer too

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month

The irony is hard to bear … even never-smokers get lung cancer.

For some time Jack LaRocque noticed a small flickering light in his vision, a spot on his retina, which in April 2018 alerted his optometrist to an ultimately alarming diagnosis.

Read more: Senior celebrates 500th hike up Kootenay trail

“After two visits to the optometrist, she saw something in the retina of my left eye that she couldn’t identify, so she sent me to the opthalmologist,” Jack began. “He looked at it and said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it.’”

Age 64 at the time, he was referred to another opthamologist, who said the same thing.

“So I’m getting used to hearing this a lot,” said the longtime Fruitvale resident, who still carries a healthy, if not subtle, sense of humour.

The father-of-four and proud grandfather eventually visited an ocular oncologist at the University of British Columbia, who said the same thing, then set him up with a battery of blood tests and x-rays.

“The blood tests were all cancer related blood tests, and all of them showed nothing,” Jack recalled. “But the chest x-ray showed a nodule about an inch in diameter in my left lung, so that sort of got the ball rolling.”

See the latest: COVID-19

In July, the LaRocques travelled to the cancer clinic in Kelowna for more tests, which confirmed seven of 10 lymph nodes of his lung biopsy were malignant.

Another specialized imaging exam called a MRI, confirmed the cancer had spread.

“What they told us at that point was that he had brain mets (metastases) too numerous to count,” said Jack’s wife Elaine. “It had spread to the brain, and at diagnosis, he was Stage 4.”

Jack underwent intense radiation treatment for five days, before returning home.

But, the malignant tumor in his lung turned out to be a rare form known as ALK-positive lung cancer, caused by a defect in a gene called anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) that is often misdiagnosed and mistreated.

Only about four per cent of all non-small cell lung cancer patients are diagnosed ALK-positive, and the most likely demographic to contract ALK are women (65 per cent), people of Asian descent and people that have never-smoked.

Jack is a Teck retiree, where he worked for 40 years.

But there is also no known correlation of ALK-positive lung cancer with environmental toxins, including second-hand smoke, asbestos, and air pollution.

In fact, there is no known cause or known cure.

Untreated, ALK-positive spreads quickly through the lungs and to the brain, as it did with Jack, so medications that reach the brain are of utmost importance.

Jack’s doctor recommended he take a targeted genetic mutation therapy medication made by Roche Pharmaceuticals – a medication that would cost a prohibitive $12,000 per month.

“Dr. Scotland did it all,” said Elaine, referring to Dr. N. Scotland, a dedicated Trail-based Oncologist.

“He appealed on a compassionate basis to the drug company and they did provide it, and they were excellent.”

After the first year of treatment, the BC Cancer Society began paying for Jack’s medication, and the family was able to avoid a financial burden that many carry.

While Jack and his family cope with a cancer that has no known cause or a cure, the onset of the pandemic did not make it any easier.

Yet, the LaRocque family remains a strong support system, as does the ALK-Positive Support Group and the Facebook support group they’ve since joined.

Their daughter, Kate, a talented pianist, held an online concert/fundraiser for the LUNGevity Foundation on Aug. 18 in honour of Jack’s 67th birthday.

All proceeds went to ALK-Positive cancer research, and proved a meaningful way to help her father and all who have been affected by lung cancer.

And importantly, the fundraiser was to help debunk the notion that only smokers suffer from the disease.

“Anyone can get lung cancer, and it’s seldom diagnosed early enough to be readily treatable,” said Kate on her fundraising post.

“Advances are being made in targeted therapies, designed to target specific gene mutations in lung cancer, like ALK, but much more research is needed.”

While early symptoms of ALK are hard to identify, the LaRocques encourage people who have experienced subtle symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, a persistent cough, shoulder or chest pains, swollen lymph nymphs, or a strange spot on your retina to see their doctor or a specialist and ask tough questions.

“We all need to be aware of it,” said Elaine. “You don’t have to be a smoker, you just need some lungs, that’s all it takes to get it.”

The medication has helped Jack significantly, but the mean life-expectancy for those with ALK-positive is less than five years, especially if caught at Stage 4.

The ongoing development of new drugs lends some hope for an extended life expectancy, although there are no guarantees.

Jack continues to struggle with fatigue, but he is thankful for each moment, adding, “We’re just trying to enjoy the best life that we can.”

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and a good time to get checked or help raise funds for research with a donation.

Facts: More patients die each year of lung cancer than breast, pancreatic and colorectal cancers combined.

About 4 per cent of all lung cancers have the ALK- rearrangement. This is the new face of lung cancer, only discoverable by molecular testing. Ideally this should be done at initial biopsy.

According to the 2019 Canadian Cancer Statistics, 70 per cent of lung cancer patients are diagnosed at a late stage (stage 3 or 4). Additionally, almost half of all lung cancer cases diagnosed in Canada are stage IV, indicating that the cancer has spread throughout the body.

Lung Cancer is the most common cancer worldwide, as well as the leading cause of cancer-related deaths.

To learn more about lung cancer and/or to donate go to lungcancercanada.ca or lungevity.org.

Related read: Breaking the stigma: Montrose man puts face to lung cancer



sports@trailtimes.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

BC HealthCancerKootenay Boundary Regional Hospital

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Salmon Arm RCMP officers responded to two public COVID-19 demonstrations held in Salmon Arm on Saturday, Nov. 28. (File photo)
Organizer of Salmon Arm COVID-19 demonstration fined $2,000 by RCMP

Police said some participants weren’t aware of the public health order prohibiting gatherings

A man wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Vancouver on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
212 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

A total of 490 cases remain active; 15 in hospital

Salmon Arm RCMP say patrons are harassing local businesses over mask requirements. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)
Police urge respect after Salmon Arm businesses report being harassed over mask rules

Wearing of masks in businesses and public spaces is currently mandated by the province

The video was used for (KGH Foundation - YouTube)
Okanagan filmmaker, poet win at L.A. Film Awards

Spoken word artist Shane Koyczan wrote and filmmaker David Nault produced the commercial

The Salmon Arm Observer’s annual food drive is underway. For donations of one or two bags of non-perishable items, donors receive a gift certificate from one of several participating local merchants. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)
Salmon Arm merchants, Observer team up for food drive

Gift cards and certificates available for donations of non-perishable items

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest weekend of COVID-19 pandemic with 46 deaths; more than 2,300 cases

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides COVID-19 update

Join Rob Dinwoodie and bandmates for a Cowboy Christmas, Dec. 11 and 12 at Vernon and District Performing Arts Center. Seating is cabaret style on the stage for an intimate concert. (Contributed)
North Okanagan cowboys go virtual for Christmas

Cowboy Christmas streamed Dec. 11-25

Vernon is getting in the Christmas spirit with many homes decorating with lights and extras. (Caitlin Clow - Morning Star)
Christmas lights tour mapped out by Vernon realtor

More than 20 of the community’s best lit houses make up annual tradition

Kettle bells sit aligned in an indoor fitness studio. (PIxabay.com)
1 COVID-19 case at a B.C. fitness studio leads to 104 more infections, 6 school exposures

According to case data released by Fraser Health, one case of the novel coronavirus carries a big impact

Vehicles drive past a display thanking essential workers in Burnaby, B.C. on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
B.C. changing COVID-19 case reporting as virus spread continues

Manual counting takes more time, leads to errors

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Sunny the cat, who jumped out of the truck at the Revelstoke Landfill earlier this month, was quickly reunited with his owners. (Contributed)
Cat returns home with the help of two landfill workers

Sunny jumped out of the truck at the landfill in November

Christy Jordan-Fenton is the co-author of the book Fatty Legs, which has been mentioned amid the controversy of an Abbotsford school assignment on residential schools.
Co-author of residential schools book condemns controversial Abbotsford class assignment

Children’s book mentioned amid controversy at W. A. Fraser Middle School

Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka takes over as energy and mines critic for the B.C. Liberal opposition. Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick (right) moves from health critic to assistant deputy speaker. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals pick critics to take on Horgan’s NDP majority

Interim leader Shirley Bond takes seniors, long-term care

Most Read