In 2011, I was young, I was tough, and I was in really good shape. I thought I was invincible.
After an upper body injury during a swift-water training session, I had noticed that my healing process was slow even after a few months. I went to my doctor for what I thought would be a minor visit, but ended up having a conversation that changed my life. At 39, I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma cancer.
Maybe it is the firefighter mentality in me, but I wasn’t going to let my will to live retreat with this diagnosis. I kept working hard both at the station, and during treatments to the point that I became my own donor for a bone marrow transplant.
After the transplant, I returned full time to work, and continued to receive mild chemotherapy treatments for the next few years.
A few years later, I visited my doctor for follow-up testing, where I received my second diagnosis of Acute Myeloid Leukemia. The night of my diagnosis, I was admitted to the emergency room, immediately put back on chemo, and spent the next 47 days hospitalized.
Thoughts bubbled up in my head that I wouldn’t be able to see my daughter graduate high school, or even see my son make it to high school. I longed for the normality of life as I waited in the hospital. My support system helped me through this time and I began to search for another bone marrow transplant donor.
My department and I ran two bone marrow drives through the Be The Match program, and although none of the 200 people who signed up for the drive was my match, a few of the firefighters from the station were placed as matches for other blood cancer patients. I’m glad that from my own disease, I could help others facing the same issue.
In January of 2016, I found a match for my own marrow, and the transplant was performed at Stanford University Hospital.
The transplant was a success, and I returned to work 6 months later.
I became a firefighter because I wanted to be an active participant in helping those in need. Never did I anticipate to what extent I would fulfill that dream. I have a different level of appreciation now for life, and you just can’t put a value on the feeling of helping others. Being able to help people on their darkest days makes my life a little better.
When I open my eyes in the morning, it’s like, alright, I’m here, I’m happy, let’s do this.
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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