Jack Layton’s Journey With Prostate Cancer
Patient Perspective Olivia Chow and Jack Layton were partners in life and politics. When he faced prostate cancer in 2010, she was by his side every step of the way.
Mediaplanet: When did Jack develop prostate cancer? Please describe your reaction upon hearing this news.
Olivia Chow: Jack developed prostate cancer early in 2010, and my reaction was actually very calm. The news didn’t come as a terrible shock or a total surprise, as his father had prostate cancer, and Jack had ensured regular testing and screening. I had undergone treatment for thyroid cancer a few years before, so in a way, we were prepared; and both of us were quite confident that with the detection and treatment that Jack would conquer the disease.
"The news didn’t come as a terrible shock or a total surprise, as his father had prostate cancer, and Jack had ensured regular testing and screening."
MP: How did Jack’s battle with prostate cancer affect you personally?
OC: As Jack’s primary caregiver, I researched and learned all that I could so we were prepared for what we were up against, and for new breakthroughs in treatments and so on. Jack had already learned a great deal from his father’s experience; and all the doctors, nurses and hospital staff were truly amazing with their knowledge and guidance. My own role was to pay attention to diet, exercise and rest — for both of us. In so many ways, it was life as normal.
MP: What lifestyle changes were made — did you take on a daily routine that helped you both during this time?
OC: Jack and I had always incorporated physical fitness and exercise into our daily routine; that didn’t change. We were also both able to continue in our political careers — just easing up a bit to accommodate medical appointments and so on. Our routine didn’t change dramatically, but our diet did. We started eating a lot more fish and a lot less red meat; more fruit and vegetables — particularly tomatoes, and less dairy. It wasn’t too difficult.
"Sharing the journey with someone you love ultimately makes it easier for both."
MP: In your experience, how important is the role of family support for those who have prostate cancer?
OC: Family support is critical, and the best thing is when men fully involve their families, their partners and particularly their loved ones who are their primary caregivers. Knowledge is power. I went to every appointment with Jack. And so I was able to do my own research, and back him up, and remind him of some of the questions to ask the doctors. Sharing the journey with someone you love ultimately makes it easier for both.
MP: What did you do to support Jack physically, mentally and emotionally through his experience with prostate cancer?
OC: I think the way I supported Jack through prostate cancer — and the way he supported me through thyroid cancer — was the way we supported each other through all the years we were together. Physically, we made sure we exercised, got rest and ate properly. Mentally, we stayed active and focused on our shared passions for public life, issues, ideas and friends. And emotionally, we were there for each other, as always, with love, hope and optimism.
"Jack saw Movember as a fun way of raising awareness and funds — and he loved it because he himself had such a beautiful moustache."
MP: How did you support yourself and stay strong throughout this time?
OC: I didn’t really have to emotionally support myself because there was so much mutual support from Jack, and from our family and friends — as well as from the medical team and well-wishers from across the country. All that positive energy helped us both stay strong. But it was important to make sure I didn’t ignore my own health and physical wellbeing — helping to care for Jack meant being focused on helping to care for myself.
MP: Not only did Jack have a famous moustache, but we understand that he was an avid supporter of Movember. Why did he support this cause so much?
OC: Jack supported Movember from the outset before he was diagnosed, largely because his father had prostate cancer, and Jack knew that many men were reluctant to get tested or to talk about the disease. Jack saw Movember as a fun way of raising awareness and funds — and he loved it because he himself had such a beautiful moustache. He was very proud of the fact that after his announcement of prostate cancer, MPs of every political party showed support for Movember.
“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.”
— The Honourable Jack Layton, August 20, 2011
MP: What words of advice would Jack have passed along to those who are currently going through this difficult time in their life?
OC: In his final message of love, hope and optimism, Jack wrote: “to other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives…. 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.”