“Blood cancer can hit anyone at any time...it has touched a lot of people in the construction industry,” says Ian Kirouac
February 4, 2014, is a date seared in the mind of Ian Kirouac. That’s the day his daughter, Florence, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
A few months earlier, the then-eight-year-old had developed a strange red patch on her chest that would not go away. She otherwise felt healthy, except for occasional night sweats. The family doctor prescribed a medicated cream that had no effect, then suggested Florence see a dermatologist, who took a biopsy.
Results revealed alarming news: It was cancer.
Kirouac and his wife, Claudine Verschuere, immediately took their daughter to CHU Sainte-Justine hospital in Montreal to confirm the diagnosis. Initial tests suggested Florence had stage 4 metastatic cancer, which meant it had spread throughout her body. (NHL is a disease in which cancerous cells form in the lymphatic system, a system which helps protect the body from infection. These cancerous cells can travel through the lymphatic system to almost any tissue or organ in the body.)
A week later, more information revealed that Florence’s lymphoma was a rare type, ALK-positive anaplastic large cell lymphoma limited to the skin.
“So, we got bad news and then kind of good news,” recalls Kirouac of the challenging time. For a month, the family waited tensely while doctors debated the best course of treatment. They recommended removing the lesion on her chest and monitoring Florence closely.
The strategy worked. Now 17, Florence just graduated high school and she is cancer free.
The family is deeply committed to supporting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada (LLSC) and its annual fundraiser, Light the Night, donating and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the organization over the past eight years. The LLSC is a national nonprofit organization that provides resources and support for people affected by blood cancer and funds lifesaving research.
The impact of the family’s dedication reaches far beyond its own activities. Kirouac, who has worked in the Canadian construction industry for more than two decades, has mobilized others in his industry to become passionate about the cause, too.
‘A powerful event’
Kirouac first became involved in fundraising for the LLSC three years before Florence’s diagnosis. He participated in a golf tournament organized by his friends John Brandone – whose daughter Alyssa had leukemia as a young child – and John Marcovecchio, both of whom also work in construction.
“Blood cancer has touched a lot of people in the construction community,” notes Kirouac.
Florence’s diagnosis with lymphoma “confirmed that cancer can hit anyone at any time,” he adds, and reinforced for him the great need to support the LLSC’s important work. By fall 2015, with Florence doing well, he and his wife wanted to give back in their own way. They walked in Light the Night that year in Montreal, an experience that left an indelible mark.
Light the Night is an annual event meant to uplift and empower the blood cancer community. Family, friends and co-workers gather together to celebrate, honour and remember those touched by cancer; white lanterns are carried by survivors of blood cancer, red lanterns are carried by supporters, and gold lanterns are carried in memory of a loved one lost to a blood cancer.
“There’s a lot of emotion,” says Kirouac of Light the Night. “You can see the different colours of the lights and you can see that some people were not as lucky as we were; they lost someone they loved. You can feel the pain, but also the support.”
Florence began joining them in 2019, needing the time to process what had happened to her. “Before that, she felt like she didn’t belong,” Kirouac says.
That same year, Kirouac organized a corporate Light the Night team with construction company Pomerleau, where he worked as an executive. He and his colleagues raised more than $18,000.
Recognizing Kirouac’s growing commitment to fundraising, LLSC Montreal asked him to serve as corporate walk chair for Light the Night in 2020 – an event that did not happen in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “It was really tough to make that call [to go virtual], because it’s such a powerful event,” he says.
Meanwhile, Brandone and Marcovecchio were doing their own fundraising for LLSC and Light the Night, often involving their contacts in the construction industry. Recognizing the potential in their collective capabilities, Kirouac joined in, suggesting they make it a more formal fundraising group.
They dubbed their trio The Construction Challenge, put together an annual donation page on the LLSC website, and created a systematic approach for reaching out to their contacts. The group brought in a stunning $180,000 the first year, and $450,000 in total thus far.
Inspiring others to get involved
“The construction industry is all about relationships,” says Kirouac when asked how they’ve been so successful in their fundraising. Trade partners – such as plumbers and electricians – have long-standing relationships with large general contractors, so these veterans of the industry simply have to consult their contact lists, make some calls, and people respond.
“What Ian brought [to the table] was calling more of our competitors and bringing them in,” says Marcovecchio, who himself works at a Pomerleau competitor, Magil Construction. “Ian is also younger and has more skills with computers,” he adds wryly.
Marcovecchio notes that Kirouac is well respected across the Canadian construction industry, another reason he’s been able to bring so many donors on board. “He’s a great guy. He has the right values,” Marcovecchio says. “He’s got integrity and he’s generous.”
Kirouac and his family have a lot going on this year. Florence is leaving home to start CEGEP in September and she has aspirations to become a doctor or an entrepreneur. As a final high-school project, she made homemade soap and raised $3,000 for the LLSC.
Meanwhile, Kirouac and his wife Claudine Verschuere doubled their personal donation to the LLSC this year. “I feel privileged,” says Kirouac, “so it’s important for us to give back.”
He just left his executive vice-president job at Pomerleau after 23 years with the company. Looking ahead, he’s not sure if he’ll remain in the construction industry, but he plans to stay involved in fundraising for the LLSC, no matter where he lands.
“I don’t know yet what I’m going to do, but they can count on me to be around and support the initiative.”
Want to get involved with Light the Night? This year’s event is happening in-person on Saturday, Oct. 21, in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary; Ottawa and Halifax on Oct. 24. Head to lightthenight.ca to register or donate.
For more information about blood cancers, and to access support, services and resources, visit bloodcancers.ca. To contact a member of the LLSC’s Community Services team, email email@example.com or call 1-833-222-4884.
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.