Patriots select Joanie Cullinan as Difference Maker of the Week

Through its Celebrate Volunteerism initiative, The New England Patriots Foundation teams with nonprofit organizations to educate fans about the need for volunteering, highlighting deserving volunteers from across the region and seeking to inspire Patriots fans to become lifelong volunteers. The foundation presents a weekly “Patriots Difference Maker of the Week” award, which recognizes deserving volunteers who go above and beyond to serve their New England communities.

We are proud to announce that Joanie Cullinan was selected as a 2020 Patriots Difference Maker of the Week for her work with DetecTogether. As part of this recognition, the New England Patriots Foundation will be making a $5,000 donation to DetecTogether.

Less than two years ago, Joanie—a firefighter in Wellesley—was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma. She was just 37 years-old at the time, and was shocked by the diagnosis. However, she was determined to not only survive cancer, but to serve as a tireless advocate for early detection and cancer research. (Read Joanie’s story)

“This is a really trying time in the world right now and I hope I can be an inspiration to someone who is struggling today. I want them to know that they can do hard things. It will get better.”

Firefighter joanie cullinan

“When I was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma at age 37, I knew I needed to do more than beat cancer,” said Joanie. “I needed to use my voice to raise awareness for occupational cancer and to promote early detection. I know early detection saves lives. It’s one of the reasons I’m alive.”

As a firefighter, Joanie was aware that cancer is the number one line-of-duty-cause-of-death for firefighters. After her own diagnosis, she made it her mission to educate her brothers and sisters in the fire service about the importance of paying attention to symptoms and getting timely help. The delay in diagnosis is often what makes cancer deadly, and many firefighters minimize symptoms and have a hard time asking for help.

“I’m a firefighter. We help people, that’s just what we do,” said Joanie. “Firefighters are nine percent more likely to get cancer than civilians and 14 percent more likely to die from cancer. Occupational cancer is real. This is bigger than me and this fight is bigger than just my fight.”

Joanie joined forces with DetecTogether and agreed to participate in a public service announcement for firefighters, sharing her story in-person and in firehouses. She has participated in local community television programs, served on several cancer survivor panels, and led discussions at local high schools.

Despite her ongoing cancer treatments and the pandemic, Joanie continued to find ways to share her story and the importance of patient action in early detection. She wrote blogs, filmed vlogs, advocated on social media and fundraised for DetecTogether.

“I truly feel I met the folks at DetecTogether by fate. We had the same message, they had the platform to speak from, I had the voice and I wasn’t afraid to make myself vulnerable,” said Joanie. “I knew I needed to tell my story to help others. If I can prevent anyone from going through what I went through, then it makes it worthwhile.”

Joanie recently returned to work at the Wellesley Fire Department after more than a year of cancer treatment and continues to be an invaluable volunteer for DetecTogether. With her infectious enthusiasm and tireless dedication, Joanie is positively impacting countless lives.

“I am so humbled by the support I have received and so thankful for every person that took the time to listen to my story and of course for my friends, family, and brother and sister firefighters who fought right alongside me,” said Joanie. “This is a really trying time in the world right now and I hope I can be an inspiration to someone who is struggling today. I want them to know that they can do hard things. It will get better.”