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

This Dec. 2, 2020, file photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. (Johnson & Johnson via AP)
Interior Health notes 80 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend

108 people in the region have died from the virus

RDuring a short downpour of rain, Sickle Point Committee member, Renee Halo Martin,  gives a green ribbon to Kaleden supporter Michael Bland. (Submitted)
100 cars lineup to get green ribbons to save Sickle Point

The Kaleden committee has until June 1 to raise $1 million

Penticton fire crews put out hot spots at a controlled burn that got a little close for comfort at Riva Ridge Estates March 8, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Controlled burn comes close to Penticton homes

Residents of Riva Ridge Estates got out their hoses before fire crews arrived

The goal of the group is to help women owned businesses recover from the pandemic and to assist women to become angel investors and women owned or co-owned businesses to better access capital.
Okanagan women’s investor fund launched to aid women-owned businesses

Twenty-five women have formed a new Okanagan angel investment fund

It's tick season in South Okanagan.
Tick season has started in South Okanagan

A Penticton adventure company collected 200 ticks last year to be studied for Lyme Disease

Five Kelowna writers are featured in an anthology that launched in time for International Women's Day. (Twila Amato - Black Press Media)
International Women’s Day: Book exploring fears features Kelowna writers

The book has launched in time for International Women’s Day

Montreal Canadiens right wing Paul Byron (41) fights for control of the puck with Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes (43) during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Monday, March 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Captain Clutch: Horvat nets shootout winner as Canucks edge Habs 2-1

Vancouver, Montreal tangle again on Wednesday

A special committee has been appointed to look at reforming B.C.’s police act and is inviting the public to make submissions until April 30, 2021. (Black Press media file)
Have thoughts on B.C.’s review of the provincial Police Act?

Submissions will be accepted until April 30

Susan Kootnekoff is the founder of Inspire Law, an Okanagan based-law practice, and provides Kelowna Capital News with weekly stories from the world of local, national and international law. (Contributed)
Kootnekoff: Royal Dismissal

Susan Kootnekoff is the founder of Inspire Law, her diverse legal career spans over 20 years

Cottonwoods Care Home in Kelowna. (Google Maps)
New COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna care home includes fully vaccinated seniors: Henry

Two staff and 10 residents tested positive at Cottonwoods Care Centre

Excerpts from a conversation between Bria Fisher and the fake truLOCAL job. Fisher had signed a job agreement and was prepared to start work for what she thought was truLOCAL before she learned it was a scam. (Contributed)
B.C. woman warning others after losing $3,000 in job scam

Bria Fisher was hired by what she thought was a Canadian company, only to be out thousands

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix provide a regular update on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, March 2, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 cases: 545 Saturday, 532 Sunday, 385 Monday

Focus on Prince Rupert, Lower Mainland large workplaces

(File photo)
RCMP seek witnesses after 2 different reports of man chasing children in Kelowna

Both incidents occured around Dougall Road in Rutland

Most Read