Around the time Richard Paton moved from a position at Nunavut Arctic College to taking on the duties of newly-elected Premier Paul Quassa’s executive assistant in late 2017, he felt something was going terribly wrong with his health.
“We’ve had this feeling,” Paton said.
He’d had a lump in the back of his throat and, during the third week of January, he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He was relatively prepared for the diagnosis, but was not prepared for the reality of facing treatment without his family by his side in Ottawa.
That’s why, on January 28, Paton started a Go Fund Me fundraising page. His biggest hope is that he will raise enough money for his wife Jimmy, a Nunavut Teacher Education Program student at Arctic College, and his four boys – Ian, Ben, Tony, and Richard Junior – to join him in Ottawa for a time.
“I think my wife, in particular, is taking it much harder than I am right now,” Paton said. “No one wants to hear their family member has cancer.”
He said the challenging part for him, which he realized as a result of writing a letter to a close, lifelong friend, will be the impact of treatment.
The family communicates a lot via technology, such as via video chats, and Paton and his wife speak frequently on the phone, up to four or five times a day. But there will likely come a time when he becomes sicker due to the treatment and, because of the location of the targeted radiation, won’t be able to speak.
There will be a total of seven weeks of radiation and, at the same time, seven weeks of chemotherapy. That’s another reason having his family close by matters a lot, aside from their healing presence.
“There will be challenges further on. Like with any cancer, it doesn’t end once they’ve done the final radiation and chemo,” Paton said.
“My challenge is, depending on the amount of time afterward for recovery, I’ll be off work. I’m already off work. I’ve been off work for the last three weeks. Things will start to run out.”
Paton’s specialist, who will oversee the chemotherapy and radiation treatment, has told him The Ottawa Hospital usually sees about 150 patients a year with his particular type of cancer.
“It surprised me in the sense that my past experience with cancer, particularly in the throat, has always seemed to be with individuals with a history of smoking,” said Paton.
Paton has never smoked. Instead, his cancer may be caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). It’s been an area of study for the last 20 to 30 years, explains Paton, and about 13 per cent of throat cancers are being attributed HPV, with men the hardest hit at a ratio of seven to two.
“In comparison to those who get throat cancer as a result of smoking, there’s a higher percentage of individuals who succeed in remediating and ultimately getting rid of the cancer caused by HPV,” said Paton, adding he will nevertheless always have HPV in his system and that it could pop up again as cancer in the future.
“But, at the moment, I’m remaining positive.”
Already the help the family has received has been overwhelming – and it’s not just a financial matter, Paton said.
“The assistance that we’re from individuals who have come forward has been to a level where it leaves me speechless,” Patton said.
“I have very close family. I am adopted out of the Ell family and I’m a Paton now, so I have 11 brothers and sisters. And I have a much broader base of friends who have continually written to me every day to say, ‘We’re here for you.'”
Paton expects to start treatment Monday, Feb. 12, after other preliminary medical processes are taken care of.
Paton’s campaign can be found on Go Fund Me by searching for “Supporting Richard’s fight w/ Cancer.”