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For Ian Armstrong, beating cancer has been a team effort

Ian Armstrong is sitting on a bench, writing in his note book. It’s one of those rare Autumn days when the sun is hot and the air humid.

The massive pines that shroud the entrance to Lakefield College School where Ian is the Athletic Director, are completely still.

“I’ve always been detail-oriented,” the 48-year-old father, teacher and former Peterborough Pete, explains. “Now more than ever, putting everything on paper helps me stay focused.”

The ‘now’ Ian is referring to is his recovery period. More than nine months ago, Ian was diagnosed with squamish cell carcinoma.

“I had a cold and my lymph nodes were swollen,” Ian explains sipping a glass of water. His mouth is dry, a result of the radiation he received at Princess Margaret Hospital.

“The cold went away, but the hard lump I felt on the left side of my neck didn’t.”

A visit with Ian’s family doctor Brendan Hughes resulted in a series of events that ultimately, determined Ian’s chances of survival.

“Dr. Hughes told me he was concerned and immediately ordered a biopsy. The next thing I knew I was in the office of ENT specialist Dr. Gabriel Fuoco who confirmed that I in fact had squamous cell carcinoma.”

From that day and every day since, it’s been a journey for Ian, one that’s left him feeling immense gratitude for the care and support he received from a number of people, including his family doctor Brendan Hughes and specialist Gabriel Fuoco.

“I’ll never forget Brendan telling me they were going to attack the cancer aggressively. ‘You’re young and healthy and you have so much to live for,’ he told me. ‘You’re important to this community and we’re going to do everything we can to help you.’

Ian explains how both of his doctors saw him before office hours, and during their lunch breaks. “They gave up their personal time and energy to make sure I was being taken care of. I am so grateful for their rapid response to the problem and diligence in ensuring I got the treatment and care I needed to beat the cancer.”

While Ian describes himself as a cancer survivor, he says there is nothing heroic about the battle itself. “It’s horrible. I felt sick, tired, frightened – an array of emotions all at one time that without the love and support of my family and friends, may have been too much to bear. When things started looking brighter, my mother told me how proud she was of me and for the courage I displayed during this entire journey. But I didn’t feel courageous at all. I just felt like I was doing what I had to do to get through every day.”

With his new normal, Ian says there are thresholds he crosses every day. “I’ve learned a lot,” he says smiling. “I know that if something doesn’t get done today, it will get done tomorrow. And yeah I do believe cancer can be beaten, but not alone. It takes a team. I had one, and for that I am truly blessed.”

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