I come from a family of firefighters. My father, brother and I have all been called to the brotherhood. I have served as a Boston firefighter for eight years.
Firefighters are many things—strong, brave, devoted. But, we can also be pretty stubborn when it comes to our health, putting off symptoms and avoiding doctor visits, and that’s just what I did when I started experiencing health changes.
While on the job one night, I woke up pouring with sweat. It wasn’t hot in the room, the sweating was very unusual. Later, I had a low-grade fever and a lingering cough that I wrote off as a cold, typical for firefighters to pass around the firehouse and also typical for us to ignore. When I started to experience full-body itchiness, my wife encouraged me to get checked out. I went to urgent care, and they sent me home after a negative COVID test.
The symptoms did not go away, but I continued to turn a blind eye to all of them. The night sweats eventually got to a point that I could no longer ignore. I went again to urgent care. They did another COVID test and a chest x-ray for pneumonia. Not long after I left the visit, the doctor called me with the results. I had a coconut-sized mass in my chest.
COVID complicated much of what happened next. I could only meet with my primary care doctor virtually and my CT scan was delayed by two weeks. I started to get lumps in my chest and shoulders, my lymph nodes were literally popping out of my skin. A scan and biopsy were finally done, and I was diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
I was 30 years old when I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a job that I loved, a young family, and was really enjoying life. Now, after 24 weeks of chemotherapy, I have extreme fatigue and chemo-induced vertigo. There’s a spot left in my chest that my doctors are watching, and I go every three months for scans.
While it would be easy to feel down, I have found strength in my family and friends. Firefighting is often referred to as a brotherhood, and it wasn’t until I was diagnosed with cancer that I really understood how fortunate I am to be a part of it. Meals were delivered, calls came in, and I found amazing support and guidance from my great friend Terry Flaherty, a Boston firefighter who won his battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Terry helped me through all of the unknown, and now I am determined to pass that on by helping others. I recently connected with a young Boston firefighter who was diagnosed with cancer, setting him up with my oncologist and helping him understand what to expect in his treatment. I started my own foundation for Boston firefighters with cancer to help ensure that they and their families get the same support that I experienced.
I also started to get involved with DetecTogether as they bring their early cancer detection education to all 1,400 members of the Boston Fire Department. DetecTogether’s 3 Steps Detect program has long been needed in the fire service. With an increased risk of cancer, firefighters need to start paying better attention to their health. They need to know how to identify early cancer symptoms, when to get checked, and how to work with their doctors. My hope is that DetecTogether’s training program will be a staple in the Boston Fire Department for years to come, and that many firefighter lives will be saved.
- excessive sweating at night
- low-grade fever
- lingering cough
- full-body itchiness
FREE Online Learning for Firefighters
The platform includes our 3 Steps Detect training along with 10 short lessons covering topics such as compiling your medical history, identifying and tracking symptoms, and how to prepare for doctor appointments. Firefighters can access the platform by clicking the link below.