I’ve been in the fire service for 63 and a half years as a combination of volunteer and career firefighter. I retired in January of 2012 in hopes of enjoying a long retirement. However, that wasn’t to be the case.
I was the one who wore my SCBA and purchased the best gear I could because I wanted to protect myself to the best of my knowledge, even before there was a connection between firefighting and cancer.
During my annual physical, I mentioned to the doctor that I had hip “discomfort” when I tried to cross my legs. I figured that this was relative to my age, 58 at the time, and was probably arthritis. My doctor thought otherwise, and had me undergo a Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test. I wasn’t aware of it, but the “discomfort” that I was feeling is an indication of prostate cancer.
A few days after the test, my doctor called me back into the office to go over my results. She said that my PSA was elevated from the normal value of 4, to a 40.1. From there, I underwent further testing with a urologist for a Digital Rectal Exam (DRE) and a needle biopsy.
The report from the urologist was that I had a high-grade aggressive prostate cancer. I sought out a second opinion at a New York City Cancer center, where I was faced with the same outcome, “if you don’t have this removed, it WILL kill you.”
I scheduled a da Vinci robotic prostatectomy with my urologist to remove my prostate, and had a bone and organ scan for metastatic cancer. I was put on a hormone treatment to help prevent the reoccurrence of cancer which was met with many unpleasant side effects including the feeling of being stripped of everything that had once made me feel like a ‘man.’
Some time passed, and another bone and organ scan was done. Additional cancer was found in a lymph node and on the pelvic bone, requiring 39 radiation treatments. To help protect my bones, I was also prescribed a drug generally used for osteoporosis in women.
My PSA was still going up and down, and it was decided that I should try an immunotherapy treatment. They drew about a cup of my blood, sent it to a lab to be treated to fight my type of cancer, and then re-infused it in my body. This method takes several months to determine if it works or not. During that period of time, I was also put on an oral drug to help block the testosterone from attaching to the cancer cells and feeding them.
After the therapy was conducted, a third bone and organ scan was done, and the organs appeared to be clear. However, there was now cancer showing in my sternum, a couple ribs, the iliac bone of the pelvis, and a couple of vertebrae. I was placed on another drug therapy – a radioactive isotope that is injected into my system via an IV once a month for six months.
This is my life because of the drugs I am on that are trying to keep me alive. I can never get back the sexual function, I have had weight gain, muscle loss, breast enlargement, and genital shrinkage. There isn’t much I can do about it, but what I can do is highly encourage firefighters to ALWAYS wear their SCBA, begin decon at the scene, wash your gear after EVERY fire, shower immediately after EVERY fire, and enjoy a healthy lifestyle, eat right, exercise, and discontinue any tobacco use
If you, a brother or sister, or a loved one in the fire service, has been diagnosed or has battled with cancer, your unique experience could help guide others to begin taking preventive measures to reduce exposure to carcinogens and hopefully improved the outlook for all that serve.
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