We Danced With The Devil: One Firefighter’s Cancer Chronicles

An exceprt from this article appears in the December 2009 issue of Firehouse Magazine.Editor's Note: Chief Trevino's share a brief story about his good friend Dave Jacobs in this article. Mr. Jacobs lost his battle to cancer before the article could be...


Here I am, at Day 375 and counting. My hair has grown back and I've re-gained half of the weight I had lost. The saliva glands in my mouth have come back to life, as predicted, although the saliva glands below my jaw line are gone forever, so I continue to be plagued with dry-mouth. Eating is still a challenge, and every mouthful of food has to be ultimately washed down with some form of liquid as my epiglottis is still about four-times its normal thickness. The incision from which my stomach tube had once protruded has now healed, leaving a hole in my abdomen I call my "second navel." I still cough up mouthfuls of goo every day. All of that is alright with me. These are but small prices I willingly pay for a second chance at life.

I don't know how long I will live, but who among us really does anyway? I cherish my life more than at any other point in time. I've learned how many friends I'm lucky enough to have; more than I had ever I realized. Dearest among them are the ones who insisted in seeing me even when I didn't want to be seen. Michael called almost daily and refused to take no for an answer, showing up at our door one day and insisting to drive me to the hospital for a treatment. He made bad jokes and tried to act like nothing was wrong. Later, on a trip to Paris, he made the short pilgrimage to the cathedral at Notre Dame to light a candle and say a prayer for me. Steve and Jerry also drove me to the hospital, and prayed for me daily. Warren and his wife Dana send a card every single week for six months, along with phone calls and emails. My family has always been there for me. Our department chaplain, Mike Ryan, had an entire congregation praying for me and other sick firefighters. My assistant, Gale, took it upon herself to keep everyone apprised of my condition. Not a single day went by that we didn't get flowers, or cookies, or books, or emails, or phone calls. On some days, there were 20 cards and letters in our mailbox to open. Thanks to my friends with the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs, I got messages from chiefs across the country and even as far away as Australia. Thank you Bellevue Leadership Team. Thank you Bellevue, Seattle, Las Vegas, and San Francisco firefighters. Thank you Norm. Thank you Ron. The list goes on and on and on; I wish I could thank each one individually.

After the fact of my own shamelessly cavalier attitude toward personal protective equipment early in my career, I've become a believer. I love to watch our young son Sergio frolic on the beach with all of the joy and careless abandon of youth. But I make sure he is slathered with sun-block and wears his beach hat.

My diet is now rich in fish, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, as it should've been all along. I've discovered that there are also plenty of references available on the Internet for good, cancer-preventing diets. Plenty of books exist that, for a relatively modest price, will guide you to healthier eating habits. You may want to pay special attention to the so-called superfoods, such as salmon, chocolate, broccoli, blueberries, walnuts, and many more. Thing is, they are really pretty tasty too. Some people also swear by diet supplements, such as mangosteen; it's best to do your own investigation and then choose what you like and suits you best. The point is, think about eliminating the wrong kinds of food and focusing on eating the right kinds of food. Consider it like a police officer wearing a ballistic vest, just in case.

The same thing applies to keeping your body in shape. But, of course, you already know that.

Smoking? Not a good idea. Smokers are always worse-off when they get cancer than other patients. You can think of smoking as a force-multiplier for cancer. Remember in the old movies where smoking was made to look glamorous? Believe me, there is nothing romantic or glamorous about dying from cancer. When you are wasting away in a hospital bed, barely able to breathe, your thoughts are no longer about being "cool." Suddenly, it's all about an insidious disease that will ravage your body without mercy, often ending in a horrible and very painful death. This process is expedited (but not diminished), by smoking or the use of other tobacco products.