August 22, 2011

CANADA: Jack Layton left message of hope for other cancer patients

OTTAWA / The Ottawa Citizen / News / August 22, 2011

By Derek Abma, Postmedia News

John Gilbert 'Jack' Layton, PC (July 18, 1950 – August 22, 2011) was a Canadian social democratic politician and Leader of the Official Opposition.
Photograph by courtesy: Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Jack Layton didn't survive his battle with cancer, but in a letter written just before his death, he urged others afflicted with the disease not to give up hope.

In a letter dated Aug. 20, released by his family on the date of his death two days later, he wrote: "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. You must not lose your own hope.

"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.

"My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer."

The exact type of cancer that led to Layton's death remained unknown Monday to all but the New Democratic Party leader's inner circle.

The fact he had prostate cancer was announced in February 2010, and it appeared he was successfully keeping that illness at bay as he led the NDP's most successful federal campaign ever in the general election this spring.

When Layton announced in July that he would be temporarily stepping aside as NDP leader because of his illness, he said he was leaving to "fight cancer now so I can be back to fight for families when Parliament resumes (in September)."

Dr. Bill Orovan, a professor of urology at McMaster University in Hamilton, said the most likely scenario, given Layton's history, was that another, more aggressive strain of prostate cancer was the cause of his death.

"The common thing is he would have had a very aggressive form of prostate cancer," Orovan said. "It's possible, as I said earlier, that he had a second (unrelated cancer). That would be uncommon but not unknown, but I think that he probably did succumb to an aggressive prostate cancer."

When a thin-and-pale Layton — at odds with the energetic image he projected during the spring election campaign a few months earlier — announced in July he would be stepping away from politics to deal with his illness, it was obvious "he had had this (new cancer) for some time," Orovan said.

"He was, unfortunately, well into the final weeks of his illness at that time."

When Layton made this announcement last month, officials at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, which had been treating him, said in a statement that "new tumours were discovered which appear to be unrelated to the original cancer, and Mr. Layton is now being treated for this cancer."

An official with the hospital said Monday it would not be releasing new information on the nature of Layton's cancer in the wake of his death.

The Canadian Cancer Society, it its annual statistical report, estimated there would be 25,500 new cases of prostate cancer this year, making it the fastest growing form of cancer. That's despite the fact it's one of the few forms of cancer that is exclusive to just one sex — men.

About 4,100 people are expected to die from prostate cancer this year, making it less deadly than lung, colorectal and breast cancer.

Derek Abma

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