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

Raw logs are loaded onto a logging ship from a log sort down the Alberni Inlet in March 2019. SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News
Port Alberni light on industrial land

Report finds few suitable locations for new industry

Cowichan Valley writer Jennifer Manuel will headlining YakFest on March 1. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Cowichan Valley writer to headline next YakFest on March 1

YakFest is a B.C.-based monthly women’s event held online via Zoom

The North Island College campus in Port Alberni is located on Roger Street. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
North Island College plans tourism networking event

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on Vancouver Island’s tourism industry

Members of Alberni Valley Rescue Squad were at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020 to practice helicopter hover exit training with Ascent Helicopters out of Parksville. When executing a search in difficult terrain, it isn’t always possible to land a helicopter, so volunteer searchers must be certified in hover exits. (BILL MCLEOD/ Special to the AV News)
Alberni Valley Rescue Society receives much-needed $40K gaming grant

Bamfield volunteer fire department also funded

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools is preparing a rapid response team proposal for submission to the B.C. Ministry of Education. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district chosen as COVID-19 rapid response team

Team to consist of SD68 and Island Health staff, according to B.C. Ministry of Education

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

The missing camper heard a GSAR helicopter, and ran from his tree well waving his arms. File photo
Man trapped on Manning mountain did nearly everything right to survive: SAR

The winter experienced camper was overwhelmed by snow conditions

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of 3 B.C. men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Ashley Paxman, 29, is in the ICU after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 97 Feb. 18, 2021. She remains in critical condition. (GoFundMe)
Okanagan woman in ICU with broken bones in face after being struck by car

She remains in serious condition following Feb. 18 incident

Most Read