Chris Kamloops, BC
When Chris Brochu of Kamloops, BC found a suspicious-looking mole on his back in 2009, his doctor quickly removed it. The mole had been cancerous but it appeared the disease hadn’t spread. “I thought I was free and clear,” Chris says.
But six years later, in May 2015, Chris was out hiking—a regular activity of his—and suddenly became short of breath. He visited a walk-in clinic, where his chest was x-rayed and he was urged to go the hospital immediately. His right lung had collapsed.
After 10 days in the hospital, Chris was told he had stage four melanoma—advanced skin cancer with a survival rate of about 15%. The cancer that had begun in his back had spread to his lung. Fluid was accumulating between his lung and ribcage, and had to be drained every day through a tube.
Chris began the long and difficult process of trying to fight the cancer. With the help of an oral form of chemotherapy he began improving, until his body became immune to the medicine: an unfortunate but not uncommon result. The cancer returned, and Chris began declining rapidly. An oncologist at the hospital in Kamloops suggested he try immunotherapy, a new treatment that boosts the body’s natural defenses to fight the cancer.
"When you have a life-threatening disease like this, you can’t foresee the future, what you’re going to have for income... it was very nice that Hope Air was able to help me out, because there’s no way I could afford to go any other way."
But immunotherapy wasn’t available in British Columbia. The closest healthcare centre offering the treatment was Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute—a whole province away. The treatment sessions would take place every two weeks, and last for two days: one day for appointments at the clinic, one day to administer the immunotherapy.
Here was potentially life-saving treatment. But how could Chris access healthcare that was hundreds of kilometres away?
Due to his illness Chris hadn’t been working at his pipefitting job for some time, so he couldn’t afford flights to Edmonton. Driving was also out of the question. Each trip would have taken 10 to 12 hours one way, meaning each two-day treatment session would turn into a four-day trip. What’s more is that Chris wouldn’t physically be able to drive in his condition.
“There’s no way I could have done it myself,” he says. “I would have had to have someone drive me. After the treatment you get incredibly fatigued and tired for about two or three days, and you don’t feel like yourself.”
Thankfully Chris’s doctor mentioned Hope Air, and Chris got in touch. Over the course of a year, we flew him every two weeks from his home in Kamloops to his appointments in Edmonton—a total of 26 times round-trip.
Flying with Hope Air allowed Chris not only to access the treatment he so desperately needed, but also to rest worry-free in his own home between trips. Without the flights he would have had no choice but to move to Edmonton—an impossible financial burden and an enormous blow to morale.
I think being at home really helps with the outcome of a person’s chance of survival, of fighting their disease,” he says. “It definitely lowers the stress level.”
Amazingly, over the span of that year Chris’s body responded to the immunotherapy. After completing the treatment in full, a CT scan showed no evidence of the cancer!
He’ll still be returning to Cross Cancer for check-up appointments, but as of now, Chris is living cancer-free.
“It’s been an incredible experience,” he says. “My family and I are so grateful for the services Hope Air provided. It’s an amazing charity. When I hear through the grapevine that people are sick, I say they should definitely apply for Hope Air flights. It’ll save you a lot of time and money. When you have a life-threatening disease like this, you can’t foresee the future, what you’re going to have for income, nothing like that. So it was very nice that Hope Air was able to help me out, because there’s no way I could afford to go any other way.”
Now that he’s back to regular life, Chris continues to hike, snowboard, dirt bike, and road cycle—all the outdoor physical activities he missed while ill. And the experience of battling life-threatening cancer has inspired Chris to spread positivity wherever he can, especially on social media.
“I want to show there’s life after a disease. You can come back and feel stronger and better and you can move on with life, you know?” he says. “There’s a lot of negativity out there, especially on the internet, when it comes to being diagnosed with a disease like mine. I want to say there’s hope. It was never-ending, the darkness out there. I want there to be more light for people.”