Let's Talk About Cancer

If you ever hear the words that you have cancer you want to hear them as soon as possible; early detection increases your odds on beating many forms of cancer.

The 2009 Fire/EMS Safety week is here and it's a remarkable accomplishment to see how far the fire service has come as we now focus on safety and health issues. For years our industry has concentrated on many issues and left this topic for the "if there's time left we can talk about it" category. We now understand that, with the risks involved in our trade, we accept that we actually have control over many issues, including when to enter or not enter a well involved occupancy knowing there is nobody inside and the possibility of injury or death is high.

There are many issues we must pay close attention to: our personal diet, heart disease and cancer. I never thought in a million years at the age of 39 I would hear the words out of a doctor's mouth; you have cancer and indications could be that you have one to three years of survival. What do I do? Where do I go? As a career firefighter thinking I was in control of so much, I just found out I was in control of nothing, or was I? Let's talk about cancer.

We have seen the reports showing firefighters are at a greater risk for cancer. Common sense allows us to make those conclusions, and while studies have proven it, more studies are on the way. As firefighters we now need to understand and respond in a pro-active way to issues regarding cancer.

This starts with removing ourselves from environments that can cause cancer, insuring that we wear our personal protective equipment (PPE) to eliminate or reduce these exposures. If you are exposed, report it and keep your own personal copies. Maintain that equipment you depend on, I know our alpha mentality doesn't like that approach; it's cool wearing gear that shows you're a bad-ass with many fires and years of experience, what's not cool is hearing the words I did and trying to explain them to your children.

After all dying is the ultimate fear and I will tell you I was afraid and I cried at the thought of my wife and children going on without me.

Stop exposing yourself to these carcinogens, maintain your gear according to National Fire Protection Association standards, the manufacturers guidelines and your department policy. If you are void of this information look it up, ask questions or introduce policy that benefits the members of your department.

The greatest gift ever: we celebrate many holidays and occasions spending lots of money showing our love for family and friends. Want to buy a gift that keeps on giving? Insure that you and your family are getting routine medical exams.

As firefighters the Wellness Fitness Initiative (WFI) is a home run in the words of Bobby Kilduff. This incredible program is endorsed by both the (International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC).

If you ever hear the words that you have cancer you want to hear them as soon as possible; early detection increases your odds on beating many forms of cancer. Do you have a family history of cancer? If you're not sure connect with family members and ask questions. Too often we are vague in obtaining this information, telling a health care provider that you have a history can lead to certain exams that allow early detection. Trust me I know. Who wants a colonoscopy or other uncomfortable exam? It's not fun, however buy you and your family a great gift.

After my cancer battle I founded an organization that helps active and retired firefighter's and their immediate family members. The Firefighter Cancer Support Network (FCSN) is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization providing assistance and promoting cancer awareness in the fire service. The FCSN is endorsed by many great fire service agencies and organizations including both the IAFF and IAFC. We have taken a subject of cancer that was rarely discussed into one of the most talked about topics.

I encourage you to become engaged in this subject: log onto www.FirefighterCancerSupport.org and share your views, concerns and what you and your department are doing to be pro-active. Contrary to some beliefs knowledge kept to yourself is not powerful, sharing with others is. It's okay to talk about cancer and keep that control.

MICHAEL DUBRON is a firefighter/paramedic with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. He's also a cancer survivor, and founder and president of the Firefighter Cancer Support Network. He has participated in the Near-Miss Listen & Learn podcast on Radio@Firehouse.com.