Alberta Cancer Foundation

Jock Poyen’s Gift in Thanks

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CUT FOR THE CAUSE: Family members support John Poyen (second from right) by cutting their hair short.

John Poyen (known to friends and family as “Jock”) died of metastatic lung cancer in early February 2014. Jock was an energetic man, with an open heart and an endless zest for life. His optimistic and enthusiastic demeanour helped him to develop a widespread network of friends and family across the globe. He was passionate about spending time with those he loved, and spent hours playing golf with friends and participating in family events and activities. He enjoyed spending time outdoors no matter the season, even as his health began to decline in recent years.

“We just attributed all of his health problems to diabetes and gastrointestinal issues,” says Janet, his wife of nearly 50 years. “He began to suffer a lot, but because he loved being with friends and family, he kept going, trying to do what he could to stay involved.”

Following a trip to Asia in fall 2014, Jock’s health deteriorated rapidly. Janet and Jock were avid travellers, always looking forward to their next journey. This time, though, Janet knew something was wrong – Jock was falling frequently, and was feeling major pain in his bones. In December, Janet brought him to the emergency room.

“Early detection can have a huge -impact. If Jock’s lung cancer had been diagnosed at an earlier stage, our story could have been completely different,” says Janet Poyen.

“We were so focused on everything else that it never entered our minds that it might be cancer,” says Janet. “At first they thought it was a tropical disease or related to diabetes, but numerous tests provided no answers. Finally they ordered a bone scan, which revealed extensive cancer from his head down to his hips. Jock was immediately referred to the fast track program at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, under the care of the wonderful Dr. Jackson Wu and his palliative team.”

Over the course of a week, Jock received five treatments, which brought him considerable relief and allowed him to enjoy time with loved ones over the holiday season. The Poyen family was impressed with the quality of care that Dr. Wu and the palliative team provided.

The discovery that metastatic lung cancer was at the root of Jock’s medical problems, and that it had gone undetected for months, perhaps years, was difficult for the Poyens. Despite countless visits with specialists and medical professionals over the previous years, Jock’s lungs had not been examined. By the time the cancer was discovered, it was too late to be fought off. “Early detection can have a huge impact,” says Janet. “If Jock’s lung cancer had been diagnosed at an earlier stage, our story could have been completely different.”

Before Jock passed away, his will was amended to leave a gift to the Tom Baker Cancer Centre to reflect his profound gratitude for the care he received from Dr. Wu and the palliative care team. Janet consulted with Pema Lektsog, senior director of major gifts at the Alberta Cancer Foundation, to find an appropriate way to honour Jock’s wishes. Lektsog explained to Janet that the gift could be designated to a priority area of interest to the family, and given Jock’s story, recommended the early detection lung cancer screening program which would allow lung cancer to be detected earlier when it is most treatable. When Janet heard about the Alberta Cancer Foundation’s In Gratitude of Caregiver program, she knew it was the perfect way to honour her husband’s memory and help individuals across the province with lung cancer.

“This program allows patients and donors to acknowledge their gratitude for exceptional care provided by their caregivers and is a meaningful way to recognize the many dedicated caregivers who work in our 17 cancer centres throughout Alberta,” says Lektsog. “We are grateful to Janet and her family for this gift – it will make life better for other Albertans facing cancer.”