Every year thousands of Canadians die of some form of cancer.
Their passing is mourned by family and friends, but goes unnoticed by the wider world.
Not so, of course, in the case of a person of prominence such as Jack Layton.
Much has been said about Layton’s accomplishments during his career as a politician.
But I believe he made an equally important contribution as his life was ending – in the form of his last letter. In it he had this to say:
To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped.
That was an important message because people need to understand cancer is not an automatic death sentence.
It depends on which kind you have and, vitally, how early it is detected.
I remember when I went down to Vancouver for radiology and chemo treatment I was told right from the outset that if I experienced side effects from the treatment it didn’t mean it was working.
And conversely, if I did not experience them it didn’t mean it wasn’t.
In other words it is different with everyone. And that applies to survival from cancer.
But Layton had already “beaten” cancer, hadn’t he?
While cancer may lose a battle, it still tries to win the war.
And it is known that cancer – and not necessarily the same one as before – can strike within five years of the first one.
That’s why I go through a battery of tests and a scan or ultrasound every six months and will do for three more years – we’re making sure it doesn’t try to sneak back.
As mentioned above, early detection is a major factor in fending off cancer.
Therefore, as I have done before in this space, I urge people to undergo mammograms and colonoscopies so that if they do develop a cancer, it is caught early enough to be banished.
And if those tests do show cancer, don’t panic.
As Layton said, Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future.