Lung cancer kills more people every year than breast, prostate and colorectal cancer combined.
“We all have lungs so we are all susceptible to lung cancer,” says Ian McAlpine.
Ian is a well known family man from Montrose. With his wife of 42 years, Cathy, by his side, the two have become champion advocates for lung cancer awareness, lung cancer research, more timely lung cancer treatment and the absolute need for a national lung cancer screening program.
Bronchogenic (lung) carcinomas are very aggressive, so the scary truth is that survival rates could hinge on where a person actually lives.
“It’s not the same province to province,” said Ian. “There is no standard, and it comes down to the dollar – what the province is willing to sponsor as far as paying for testing. It is really awful.”
The McAlpine’s fight to keep Ian alive is laden with all the twists and turns of silver-screen drama. Their intense battle through the healthcare system is one they are sharing with medical professionals, drug company panels, and the community-at-large. The very private couple is willing to put their face to the highly stigmatized form of cancer for one reason – they want to help and encourage others who have been, or will be, diagnosed with the terminal illness.
Their story of never-ending perseverance is featured by Lung Cancer Canada in “The Faces of Lung Cancer Report,” a 2016 summary of research and analysis of the lung cancer “waiting game.”
“They never call it remission with cancer, this nasty little tumour has never gone away,” Cathy began. “We were running out of options in early 2016 and that’s when we starting hunting down and really trying to know the next phases of what was going on with his particular (cancer) mutation.”
As you can see, he’s doing awesome, Cathy said during a Jan. 6 Trail Times interview.
“Yesterday, we got the results of his CT that he is still stable – our new favourite word is ‘stable’ – because the cancer is never gone.”
That’s the Coles-notes version of the family’s journey through Ian’s diagnosis – he’s currently part of a clinical trial for a breakthrough drug called Tagrisso. When he first became “subject number eight” on the Tagrisso trial list, he and Cathy had to fly across the country to Oshawa every six weeks for the oral chemotherapy pill. Now, they travel to the BC Cancer Agency in Vancouver for the medication, which is defined as “targeted therapy.”
Accessing the drug was no easy feat – the McAlpine’s had their family and friends scouring the Internet for the latest treatments – logistics like how to get the newest drug to Canada was an afterthought. Time was of the essence because Ian’s condition rapidly deteriorated after his cancer developed resistance to available chemotherapy.
And here’s where frustration sets in. Tagrisso has been available in the U.S. since 2015, but Canada requires its own years of data before the drug will be approved in this country – and people with lung cancer do not have that kind of time.
“You are talking about people who are dying, it’s not like it’s the newest thing for a hangover or something,” said Cathy. “Sometimes it’s frustrating as all get out, when you know there is something out there and you can’t get it,” she added. “That is also something that annoys Lung Cancer Canada – the difference between the States and Canada and how long things are available down there before they are available here.”
Cathy and Ian McAlpine
This year 28,000 Canadians will be diagnosed with lung cancer and 20,000 will die from the disease. The reality is that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women in Canada. But these truths may not be known or widely talked about because lung cancer carries shame, some call it prejudice, about smoking.
Ian has been living with the disease for a little over three years – and let’s just get this out of the way – he has never been a smoker.
In fact, he did everything “right.” He was a dedicated instructor of Adult Basic Education at Selkirk College until his 2013 retirement. The husband and father was always active in the community or at the gym working on his six-pack – Ian is a self-professed kickboxing