“The Club”

I never grew up thinking “I want to be a Fire Fighter” as many young boys do.  In fact, I can say that I really never even thought much about Fire Fighters or what they do.  Instead, I wanted to be a Truck Driver. Not sure why, but that is what was in my thoughts a lot, especially when traveling with my family and seeing all the big trucks on the road.

As I became a licensed driver, I would take many road trips.   A few years out of high school, I moved to Salem, but yet I worked in Beaverton and then downtown Portland.  This of course gave me a lot of time on the freeway, driving to and from, 5 days a week.  I started wondering what I could do to assist with those in need on the road if per se there was an accident.  Would I know how to help?  Could I help, or would I just be in the way?  I knew I couldn’t just sit there and do nothing, so I had to learn how to ready myself for a scenario in which I might easily find myself.

A few years went by and I still had no idea what I would do, but I became engaged and my Fiancé, Marinda, and I bought a place in Keizer. We were married and enjoyed living in Keizer for a couple of years before a home across the street and a few down from us caught on fire. Fire Fighters were everywhere, but one of their engines was parked right out in front of our house.  I was thrilled to watch what was happening and to see what the Fire Fighters were actually doing.  Of course, I didn’t really understand what was going on before me, but towards the end of the experience, I went over to a Fire Fighter who was operating the engine in front of our house and started talking to him.

I don’t recall that conversation or if what I learned next was from him, or if it was the sign out in front of the station that we saw later that was saying they were looking for volunteers.  Either way, I started
asking questions.  I discovered that I don’t have to go to school to become a Fire Fighter, but they would do all my training there at the station.  But more importantly, and what really caught my attention, was that I was told I could attend classes and learn to become an EMT if I chose to, and they would reimburse me for the classes!

Well, now they had me.  This is what I had been looking for!  I could learn the skills I needed to help those in a situation where they could not help themselves.  I then knew I wanted to be an EMT, and joining the Keizer Fire District was what I was going to do.

In 1998, I joined Keizer Fire as a volunteer recruit.  We trained every Monday, for several hours, for a year, until finally we were tested and earned our NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) Fire Fighter 1 certification.  By now, I had already learned to love firefighting.  And it was more than that.  In fact, substantially more calls are medical by nature than fire, so we also had to learn the basics of First Aid and CPR.  We also were able to assist the Paramedics with more advanced medical services.

After I received my Fire Fighter 1 certification, I continued on as a Fire Fighter, still continuing to train every Monday evening as well as filling a regular weekly shift at the station.  On the weekdays, we
pulled 12-hour (night) shifts, and on weekends and holidays, we pulled 24-hour shifts.  This would put me at the station for anywhere between 15 hours a week up to 50+.

I then decided it was time to go to school to get my EMT license.  So I attended Chemeketa Community College for a year, taking classes and labs, and once again had to take a physical and written test to pass the Oregon standards.  I passed and was granted my EMT-Basic license to be able to use those skills at the Keizer Fire District.  Now I finally knew what I could do if the need ever arose while traveling on the freeway!  I also changed jobs and no longer worked in Portland, instead, I started working for the Corvallis School District, so I was still traveling as far, but just in a different direction.

Fast forward 18 more years.  I continued to work in Corvallis, but I also still pulled shifts and drills every week, with the exception of a 3-month medical leave (that is another story).  During that time, of
course, I never saw or had a need to use my medical skills on the road. But I was at least now more comfortable with knowing I could!

Things were changing, as they typically do, at the Fire District.  I had been promoted to Lieutenant after 9 years and was the Training Officer for volunteers for the next 8.  I continued on as a shift Lieutenant
until there were fewer and fewer volunteers and less need for me in that position.  By 2018, I had put in 20 years there, and I knew it was time for me to leave.  It was a hard thing to do, as they were my family too! But “retirement” was the right thing to do.

Things were going fine after retirement.  I still work for the Corvallis School District, so I still traveled a lot.  But I was getting older for sure.  I was not as young and fit as I once was, and things were about
to change.

To the best of my recollection, it was somewhere around September or October of 2022 when I had blood in my urine one day.  I thought it was odd, but didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, so I didn’t say anything.  By the end of the day, it was gone.  However, it happened again a few weeks later, again going away by the end of the day.  This happened a few times before I happened to mention it to Marinda who immediately told me I needed to go be seen by a doctor!

I went to see my Primary Care (NP-C), who referred me to a Urology clinic.  In January I had my first appointment.  I was kind of caught off guard when the Doctor asked a few questions and then commented that they were going to treat it as cancer until they could prove otherwise.
Wait..what?  Cancer?  No… not me.  That certainly is not what he meant to say, because that is not what I was expecting to hear!

My maternal Grandfather did have Prostate cancer, so I immediately thought that might be what was going on.  But the Doctor ordered a CT scan so he could have a better look at my bladder.  In February, I had the scan.  For those who are familiar, there is a system here call MyChart.  Any provider that uses this system will add your health information there so others can view it as necessary.  The thing about
it though, is that when information is added, I get a ping and notified that there was something added.  So, of course, I had to look.  What I saw, even before the Doctor saw it and could tell me, looked…. well, not right.

The CT scan showed a mural filling in my bladder.  The Doctor who reviewed the CT scan suggested having a Cystoscopy to look at it, indicating it was probably a tumor.  I had already scheduled an
appointment with the Urologist for this very thing as I am now realizing he had already suspected this.  But now I had to wait a couple of weeks for the Urologist to confirm it was a tumor.  The waiting is probably one of the hardest parts.

It was during this time that I was introduced to Kicking Cancer.  My good friend and fellow Fire Fighter, Bob, introduced me to Baron and the movement.  They passed on some very good information, including contact with the Firefighter Cancer Support Network.  This was instrumental in my “processing”!  As I reached out to FCSN, I found the contact there was a mutual friend with several of my Fire Fighter brothers and sisters.  I was then set up with a mentor… not just any mentor, but one that was also a Fire Fighter, who was battling the same cancer, and had the same tests and the same surgeries as I was about to have.  This was a mentor who knew exactly what I was going through!  That was invaluable!!

I remember going home after meeting with Baron and I was actually excited about where things were going.  I started to tell Marinda about the meetings and connections, and she turned to me and said “Is this club stuff?  I don’t want to be a part of that club”!  From then on, any appointments, contacts, communications, and discussions about my new situation were all “club” related.

In March I finally went in for the Cystoscopy.  The Doctor used a camera to go in and view the inside of my bladder.  It was not painful, but let’s just say it was not comfortable either.  But as far as tests go,
it was totally doable.  The scope had barely gotten into my bladder when he verbalized “Oh yeah, there it is.  Looks like a low-grade tumor”. After I was able to regain my composition (and clothing), he sat down with us to chat about it.  He asked if I smoke, and I was able to tell him I have never had a cigarette in my mouth, ever.  He looked a little taken aback until I told him “But, I was a Fire Fighter for 20 years”. His face lit up with acknowledgment and mentioned: “That makes sense”.

The Doctor then had me schedule an appointment to have surgery to remove the tumor.  He felt it was slow growing enough that he wasn’t worried about doing the surgery right away, but of course that just put me and my family on edge a little more knowing we would have to wait a little longer to get confirmation of cancer and to get rid of it!  More waiting!

April 21st finally arrived.  Surgery day.  It was early afternoon and I actually felt pretty calm about it all.  Marinda may have been a little more stressed about it, but I felt I was taking it pretty well.  They put me through the prep, finally wheeled me back to the operating room, and applied the anesthesia.  One of the nurses later called me a “lightweight” as it didn’t take much.  (From previous surgeries, we knew
I would be out fast and for a long time.)

The Doctor said the surgery went well.  He felt he was able to remove all of the tumor, but because of the placement of it (right next to the opening to the left ureter), he didn’t feel like he could take any more. He also said it created a little divot, so he didn’t want to proceed with the chemotherapy after the surgery.  He stated that there is no need for further treatment, but I will have to be checked in 3 months,
then 6 months, then a year, and then again every year for 10 years.  If things go well during that time, he may consider then going every other year for checkups.

It was about a week and a half later we got the results back from the biopsy.  It was confirmed that I had low-grade Papillary Urothelial Carcinoma.

I have received a TON of support from family and friends! Of course, Marinda was there with me all the way through. Even though she didn’t want to be in that “club”, she persisted with me and we have seen the power of prayer, family, and friends!

I cannot stress enough the importance; if you have ANY symptoms, go and get checked today!  You may not have a choice about joining our club, but you may have a greater chance of being in the club longer than some have, and that is our wish for you today!