When firefighters run into burning buildings to save both people and property, the danger is right in front of them, in the heat of the flames. “But it’s the unseen danger that you don’t know about firefighting,” says Vic Parziale, a retired Brockton firefighter with 32 years on the job.
Firefighters are at a greater risk for cancer because of their exposures on the job, and they are 14% more likely to die from cancer than the general public. Cancer caused by the absorption and inhalation of carcinogens on the job caused more than half of firefighter deaths between 2002 and 2016.
To help raise awareness about this problem and to encourage firefighters to see the life-saving power of early detection, Parziale is golfing in this year’s Golf Fights Cancer Golf Marathon on June 3. All the funds raised during the event primarily benefit DetecTogether, a nonprofit that teaches people how to detect cancer early, giving them their best chance of surviving. The Golf Marathon is an annual event created by the nonprofit Golf Fights Cancer, where golfers of all abilities play 100 holes to support cancer-related organizations.
Parziale’s caddie at this year’s Golf Marathon will be his son, Matt Parziale, himself a former Brockton firefighter and a successful U.S. amateur golfer who played in the 2018 Masters and has golfed alongside Tiger Woods. Besides playing in the Golf Marathon, the duo has teamed up to spread awareness and raise money so that DetecTogether can teach more firefighters how to recognize symptoms that could be cancer as early as possible.
“The stuff that comes later on can take your life before you even know it’s there, and the important part is to detect it early,” says Vic Parziale. “I just had a friend who retired three years ago, and he passed away from cancer already. He worked his whole life and now he’s gone — it’s a tough thing. For years, I didn’t think about it. Luckily, so far, I’m still good. I still feel the brotherhood of being a firefighter, and I’m trying to help out future firefighters and those who are in there now.”
Matt Parziale learned about DetecTogether through a golf connection, and as a former Brockton firefighter, offered to attend the DetecTogether training there.
DetecTogether offers training that is tailored to firefighters. Matt Parziale says, “I was a firefighter for four years and my dad for 32 years, and they really just started talking about cancer awareness towards the end, before I went on leave [to focus on golf]. DetecTogether is trying to help firefighters catch up, so people have the knowledge to get checked out and find things early and hopefully have a chance to beat cancer.” A higher cancer mortality rate can be attributed, in part, to seeking medical attention at later stages, due to a lack of recognition of early warning signs. Firefighter culture doesn’t help either. Toughing things out isn’t the answer when it comes to cancer. This training aims to improve firefighters’ cancer survival rates by teaching the 3 Steps Detect program.
“Being aware of how your body feels [is so important],” says Matt Parziale. “Keeping track of health changes, and if they last for a couple of weeks, that’s something to go get checked. Firefighters are very stubborn, so it is also about getting through to them, ‘Hey, if something’s wrong with you, you have to get it looked at.’ They think they’re going to be OK, but all of a sudden, it’s too late and their life changes, their family life changes. If they can be aware and detect something before it [is serious], it could save their life.”
When Matt and his dad hit the links for the Golf Marathon on June 3, it will be a role reversal, since Vic is Matt’s caddie during his U.S. amateur tournaments. Matt joked that he has the easy job for the Golf Marathon, which takes place shortly after he plays in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball tournament at Chambers Bay Golf Course, outside Tacoma, Wash., from May 22-26. He’ll get a rest after that tournament when his dad takes up the clubs for the Golf Marathon.
Both Parziales are looking forward to the Golf Marathon itself, but even more so the impact it will have. Each golfer who participates commits to raising $3,000, and so many golfers have signed up that the event has expanded from one day to two. More than $500,000 has been raised for the event so far, and they’re hoping for even more. Funds raised will go towards DetecTogether’s education and advocacy, giving people a better chance of survival and options for less invasive treatment.
“Golf and the firefighting community are the two things I care most about in my life, outside of my family,” Matt Parziale says. “It’s not even about the day — it’s more about what comes after. Hopefully we can help change some lives with what we raise for this day.”
The Golf Marathon will take place on June 3 and 4, 2021 at Juniper Hill Golf Course in Northborough, Mass.
by Maura Sullivan Hill