By: Jennifer Friesen
As Jordan Turko opened his mouth to speak at a meeting on Jan. 4, 2022, he could only muster a hoarse whisper.
“I tried clearing my throat and there was nothing,” he says. “My voice was just gone. It was bizarre.”
He woke up with a backache that same morning and thought he might have COVID-19. But when the symptoms persisted, he went to the walk-in clinic. As an active and healthy 30-year-old, he wasn’t too worried.
After a string of tests, including a CT scan and chest X-ray, he received a shocking diagnosis on April 25, 2022: Stage 4 lung cancer had metastasized across his body. There was a four-inch tumour wrapped around his pulmonary artery, paralyzing his vocal cords, and tumours growing down his spine that were days away from paralyzing his legs.
“It was very quick and very shocking,” says Turko. “All of the sudden, I was hospitalized at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton. By April 26, I couldn’t really walk, and I was in a wheelchair being wheeled into the Cross Cancer Institute — it was that fast.”
Turko received emergency radiation on his chest and back, which succeeded in shrinking the tumours along his spine, reversing the paralysis of his vocal cords and restoring his ability to walk. As a healthy, non-smoking young adult, he underwent genetic biomarker testing to see what caused the lung cancer.
The answer came a few days later. Doctors told him he had a rare gene mutation called anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK).
“The most common cause of lung cancer is smoking, but that wasn’t my case,” he says. “I just have a genetic mutation and the floodgates opened. Suddenly, this protein is being created in my cells and replicating out of control, starting in my lungs.”
Turko was prescribed a targeted drug therapy called alectinib; its efficacy was proven through a recent clinical trial in Alberta. He now takes eight alectinib pills daily, extending his life from weeks to years. While Turko is still living with stage 4 lung cancer today, the treatment is ongoing to keep the cancer at bay.
“If I had been diagnosed a few years ago and alectinib hadn’t gone through clinical trials yet, then I would have likely died in a few weeks,” says Turko. “There are new therapies coming out all the time and so many cancers are becoming more treatable. That’s why the ongoing philanthropy and fundraising is really important.”
Turko says that maintaining hope and positivity helps him through all the hardships he faces.
“Now, instead of saying I have to do anything, I think about how I get to,” he says. “I’m going to do everything possible to live, and I’m going to radiate that energy.”