Clarke Lamont hopes for some good to come out of his wife’s tragic passing from lung cancer at the age of 72.
Last year, the Calgary businessman made a donation to the Alberta Cancer Foundation benefitting the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in appreciation of the care that his wife Patricia received while a patient at the centre. The funds will be used to support a lung cancer screening program related to the work of respirologist Dr. Alain Tremblay, an associate professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Calgary, whose ultimate goal is to develop a provincially funded lung cancer screening program.
“Pat was a really special person. We have two wonderful sons and two wonderful grandsons. We had a very, very fantastic marriage,” says Clarke Lamont.
Pat Lamont was a non-smoker and went for annual check-ups, “but they never did a chest X-ray, just a mammogram,” Clarke says. When she was diagnosed with lung cancer, her physicians couldn’t pinpoint a sure cause. There were no symptoms – typical of the illness – until very late. “Lung cancer is really hard to detect. When you get lung cancer and it moves, it’s terminal. It’s a bad thing,” Clarke adds.
The Lamonts, who met at university, were married for nearly 49 years and dated for four years before getting married. After graduating with a social work degree from the University of Montana, Pat worked for the Alberta government as a social worker in Edmonton, High Prairie, Grande Prairie and Calgary. She also served as a volunteer for a variety of organizations, including as a member of the Junior League of Calgary, the University of Montana Alumni Association Board of Directors and the Alberta Appeals Secretariat.
“Pat was a really special person,” Clarke says. “We have two wonderful sons and two wonderful grandsons. We had a very, very fantastic marriage.”
The Lamonts were in Arizona in the spring of 2013 when Pat began to feel ill. “She wouldn’t come out walking with me. She was lethargic,” Clarke recalls. “In May, she started to cough and wake up in the middle of the night. It was really bad. I knew there was something wrong.”
Clarke told Pat that she had to go to the doctor and get a chest X-ray. In early July, she was told the X-ray had found a large mass on her lung and she was booked in for an emergency CT scan. Around the end of July, Pat suffered a seizure. “It was just horrible,” Clarke recalls. “I thought I would lose her then.”
“Lung cancer is really hard to detect. When you get lung cancer and it moves, it’s terminal. It’s a bad thing.”
They went to the emergency department at the Foothills Hospital. After medical staff checked the results of Pat’s CT scan, they found the lung cancer had spread to her brain. At the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, the Lamonts met with radiation oncologist Dr. Jon-Paul Voroney and his team, who started her treatment with radiation therapy on the three tumours in Pat’s brain, before undertaking radiation therapy on her lung. The tumours shrank and Pat was put on chemotherapy. Several sessions were planned for her medical care, but she only made it through one, ending up in hospital after the first session.
“The chemotherapy almost finished her – but maybe it helped,” Clarke says. Pat was determined to go home, and Clarke made special arrangements for her to do so. Through the support of Alberta Health Services, they set up a special bed in their bedroom, and Clarke hired home care to help several times a week. He took on the rest of her care himself. “She started to walk again and started to get a little bit better.
I don’t know if it was the chemo or the radiation,” he says.
That year, their family celebrated Christmas together, and in the new year, the Lamonts went to Arizona with family members, Pat travelling in a wheelchair.
Soon after, Pat’s care team found a new tumour, which started to shrink after she underwent more radiation therapy. A checkup determined that the tumours had disappeared. Keeping up their commitment to travel, the Lamonts went to Edmonton, Sylvan Lake and Banff, as well as to social functions with family and friends, out for dinner and shopping. For all of this time spent together, they and their family were extremely grateful. “I do think they gave Pat extra time – 14 months more than they expected,” Clarke says. “We got to do a few things we never would have otherwise; we did all kinds of things.”
In July 2014, however, Pat experienced another seizure, and the care team at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre discovered a new tumour in her brain. Voroney broke the news.
“He said, with tears in his eyes, ‘I can’t do any more,’” Clarke recalls. “They suggested she should maybe go to hospice.”
It was devastating, but at least they had extra time after the initial diagnosis. “He had already given us 11 months after they told her she was terminal.” Pat ended up living at Southwood Hospice, where she stayed for two-and-a-half months before passing on September 29, 2014 – much later than the three to four weeks it was expected that she would live. “She passed away very peacefully,” says Clarke.
He and his family are deeply appreciative of the care and compassion that Pat received all along, from physicians, nursing staff and other caregivers at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, the Foothills Hospital emergency department – whose staff Clarke describes as “absolutely wonderful” – and Southwood Hospice, where “the care was just phenomenal.”
After her passing, the Lamont family asked that friends and family make a memorial donation to honour Pat, in lieu of flowers, to the Alberta Cancer Foundation, care of the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. Clarke himself made another donation this year on behalf of himself, Pat and their family, and he plans to make another contribution next year, continuing on a regular basis into the future. He would like to see more money raised for the lung screening program and says it’s an important cause for those who would be interested in donating.
“We want to get more people pre-screened,” he says.