One year ago, Luis Lacourt was a middle school guidance counselor, a father of five and a runner preparing for the inaugural Canton Marathon. Shortly after Father’s Day, he received the news that would shake his life and his world: He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Luis Lacourt received some thoughtful and meaningful Father’s Day gifts from his five children this year.
None of those gifts could inspire the joy he will feel simply by being alive to spend the day with them.
One year ago, Lacourt was a middle school guidance counselor, a father of five and a runner preparing for the inaugural Canton Marathon. Shortly after Father’s Day, he received the news that would shake his life and his world: He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
For Lacourt, the news was painful, but not wholly unexpected. His father, grandfather and uncle had all been diagnosed with prostate cancer and because of that, his father had been urging him for years to get tested regularly.
“I had been getting myself tested since the age of 35, and at the age of 40, my doctor said to me, ‘You’re going to need to go to a urologist at this point,’ ” Lacourt, now 43, said. “The urologist said to me, ‘It’s not a matter of if you get prostate cancer, it’s a matter of when because of the family history and genetics.”
When he reached his mid-30s, Lacourt took that advice and went to his doctor for regular screenings. Even so, nothing could have fully prepared him for the day last June when he received the news by phone.
The Friday before the marathon, Lacourt received a call from his doctor’s office about the results of a biopsy on his prostate. When the nurse wanted to set up a meeting for the following Monday to hear the results in person, Lacourt — who had been waiting several weeks for a diagnosis — pressed for any information he could get.
“The nurse said, ‘Yeah, they found a small amount of cancer,’ ” Lacourt recalled.
He elected to run the marathon despite the news he had just received, and the following Monday, he and his wife of 22 years, Chris, met with the urologist and had his treatment options explained to them.
“My wife and I walked out of that meeting, and we just cried and held each other, but somehow I had a sense of optimism because we caught it pretty early, and I’d seen my dad get through it — my uncle and my grandfather as well,” Lacourt added.
After getting the diagnosis, he headed to Sippo Reservoir Park, not far from his home, for some time alone to reflect and pray. The park had become a frequent destination for Lacourt during his marathon training, but on that particular summer afternoon, it became something entirely different.
He found a bench overlooking the stream that flows through the north side of the park and sat quietly, praying and trying to process the sobering reality he now faced.
Page 2 of 3 - He and his wife also had to figure out how to break the news to their five children: Kaylee, 18, Madeline, 16, Logan, 15, Josey, 13, and Jason, 12.
“That was hard. … It was very hard,” Lacourt said. “They go to Perry, and they had seen a young man go through a type of leukemia, and he ended up passing away. So they knew about cancer and death and what was going on, but I tried to explain it to them as optimistically as I could.”
After the conversation, the family spent the evening together, watching television and hanging out like any normal night in an effort to keep everyone in a positive frame of mind.
‘DIFFERENT SORT OF MARATHON’
Training for the marathon was also helpful to Lacourt not only from a health standpoint, but in terms of developing the fighting spirit and determination needed to endure his cancer treatment.
“Once I realized I had cancer, I realized I had been training for a much different sort of a marathon,” Lacourt said. “My marathon wasn’t just a marathon through the streets of Canton, but a sort of bigger life issue that I had to overcome.”
After the diagnosis became official, Lacourt turned to the plan he had been working on for some time, knowing he would almost certainly face the very situation he was now in. Being a counselor and in the “people-helping business,” his plan not only included surgery, treatment and following his doctor’s orders, but also using his own illness as a platform to call for attention to prostate cancer awareness among men.
“On Tuesday (the day after his diagnosis), I sat down with a couple of my closest friends and I said, ‘Hey guys, this is what’s going on. I know it’s crazy, but here’s what I’m thinking about doing,’ ” he said. “I had been thinking for a long time, if this is the case, I’m going to try to do something with it and try to raise awareness and do something positive.”
When he began making calls and reaching out to see what organizations and support groups there were for men with prostate cancer or survivors, he found none. Being in the midst of his own fight with cancer, he felt a responsibility to do something about the dearth of support for men in the same position.
One of the activities he used to get the word out was the Jackson-Perry football game on Oct. 19, a game designated as a fundraiser for prostate cancer awareness. The “Tackle Prostate Cancer” event included Lacourt standing at midfield with more than two dozen cancer survivors and addressing the crowd. The night brought together the two districts he was directly tied to — Jackson as a guidance counselor at Jackson Memorial Middle School and Perry, where his five children attend school.
Page 3 of 3 - He has also established a nonprofit organization called Prostate Cancer Support Group to help counsel prostate cancer survivors and patients, and partnered with Canton Urology on the project. Additionally, he has become a regular at community events in Jackson and Perry, passing out literature about cancer awareness, and hopes to do more of the same in August at the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s enshrinement weekend.
REMOVING THE STIGMA
Lacourt’s goal remains to normalize the conversation among men about prostate health because it is one of the most treatable forms of cancer when caught early on, and the procedure to remove the prostate gland is also relatively straightforward. He hopes that talking about the topic is something all men become comfortable doing so there is no stigma or shame involved with the process.
As Father’s Day 2013 arrived, Lacourt remained grateful to be alive and healthy, but he is also even more thankful for his own father and the role he played in making sure that his son took all the necessary steps to deal with the possibility of prostate cancer.
“One of the biggest feelings I have is a sense of gratitude for my own father because he was persistent in prodding me along to make sure I got tested. The other part is a sense of gratitude for my own kids and just being able to see them be happy and be teenagers,” Lacourt said.
Although he left his job in Jackson at the end of the school year to become one of the guidance counselors at Perry High School, Lacourt maintains close ties to the Jackson community. He also plans to continue sharing his story and using it to get the message out at his new school.
It will be nearly five years of being tested every few months before he is give a cancer-free diagnosis, but Lacourt isn’t sitting back and counting the days until that dream comes true. He will spend the time in between now and then working to make sure that men who walk the same path he’s on do so without any shame or stigma burdening them.
“The stigma of cancer isn’t as alarming or scary when you address it aggressively and confidently,” Lacourt said.
Reach Andy at 330-899-2872 or andy.harris@TheSuburbanite.com.
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB