Beating cancer takes a team effort

Ian Armstrong credits his doctors' rapid response and diligence after his diagnosis

Ian Armstrong is the Athletic Director at Lakefield College School (photo: Simon Spivey)
Ian Armstrong is the Athletic Director at Lakefield College School (photo: Simon Spivey)

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,” says the 48-year-old father, teacher, and former Peterborough Pete. “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, he was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma.

“I had a cold and my lymph nodes were swollen,” Ian recalls, 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,” Ian explains. “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,” Ian says. “‘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,” he says. “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 starting 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,” he adds. “It takes a team. I had one, and for that I am truly blessed.”

The 4th Annual Peterborough Speaker Series takes place on Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at The Market Hall

What do a famous photographer, lawyer, writer/playwright, CBC radio host, athlete, and coach all have in common?

They all fuse their passion for what they do with their love of life to create an impact and life-long change within their profession and the community they live. They’re all “Fire Starters”.

This year’s Peterborough Speaker Series shines a spotlight on some of our community’s most dynamic and innovative people, presenting their remarkable contributions of personal and professional success.

The speakers are Julie Kirkpatrick (lawyer), Drew Hayden Taylor (writer/playwright), Joe Cummings (CBC radio host), Michael Hurcomb (photographer), Reanne Holden (athlete), and Carol Love (coach).

As part of its fundraising efforts, the foundation presents Fire Starters, the fourth annual Peterborough Speakers Series, at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at The Market Hall (140 Charlotte St., Peterborough). Doors open at 6 p.m. with speakers presenting at 7 p.m. Each guest will speak for 10 to 15 minutes, and there will be a intimate cocktail reception following the speeches where attendees can meet and mingle with the speakers.

Tickets are $50, with proceeds from the event supporting the Health Services Foundation. Tickets are available at and at Moondance Records at 425 George St. in Peterborough (Monday – Saturday from 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., cash only). is proud to be a media sponsor for the Peterborough Speakers Series

kawarthaNOW.comCHEX Television100.5 Kruz FM101.5 FM The Wolf