Death of Canada’s Jack Layton is Cancer Teaching Moment

I’m not Canadian and my interest in politics nears zero. Nevertheless, the death of prominent Canadian politician, Mr. Jack Layton, this week gives me reason to write. For those like myself who are ignorant to Canadian politics , Mr. Layton was the charismatic leader of that country’s opposition group in Parliament. At one point, he had been voted the Canadian leader that they’d “most like to drink a beer with.” Now in my mind, beyond even the glowing praise of his abilities and accomplishments in Parliament, that statement says something about a man!

Mr. Layton was diagnosed with prostate cancer a year ago and his cause of death was reported to be from an aggressive form of cancer. While it’s possible that he developed a second cancer type which killed him rapidly, it’s most likely that his prostate cancer recurred (came back), spread (metastasized), and killed him despite aggressive treatment.

Judging from what I’ve read about Jack Layton, he would want to help his fellow countrymen and others even in death as he had throughout his life. In that regard, there are two lessons we can learn here, both generally about cancer and specifically about cancer of the prostate. The first is that descriptions of people “bravely fighting” or “losing their brave fight” against cancer need to go! While I realize it’s difficult to refrain from battle metaphors, these phrases have little meaning for people dealing with cancer and can be downright disrespectful. This point is articulated well in an article by reporter, Carly Weeks, of the Globe and Mail:¬†

The second issue concerns prostate cancer. Yes, many men who are diagnosed with indolent forms of the disease don’t need treatment and will die ultimately of other causes. They will die “with it rather than of it.” However, it’s equally true that within the spectrum of prostate cancer, thousands of men are diagnosed and ultimately die from aggressive forms of the disease. Medical research needs to continue (with increased funding!) to advance toward the day when men like Mr. Layton are not cut down in the prime of their lives.¬†Zealots¬†preaching about the dangers of prostate cancer treatment take heed.

– Patrick Maguire, MD



4 Comments to Death of Canada’s Jack Layton is Cancer Teaching Moment

  1. Francis's Gravatar Francis
    August 24, 2011 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    Do you think the strains of leading a national election campaign in April and into early May 2011 played a role in his cancer overtaking him?

    Thank you so much for your post here.

  2. Mark Surchin's Gravatar Mark Surchin
    September 4, 2011 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    Not sure if my comment took–I am Canadian and met Jack at a prostate cancer walk/run only two weeks after my surgery. In July when he took a leave from his job for new treatment he said it was a “new” cancer and said it was NOT a return of prostate cancer. I believe he said that (and his PSA) were under control. Nonetheless the belief in the prostate cancer “community” that he died of PCa is creating a lot of fear.

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