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Read more about Kevin
in the words of
Katie Oldham

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The Foundation does not provide medical advice.

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Read what they have to say about
Code 3 for a Cure

Bobby Goldsboro
Hear what Bobby Goldsboro
has to say about Code 3


Firefighters Fighting Fire imageNumerous studies have proven that the risk of being diagnosed with cancer is higher among firefighters than the general population.  One such study, conducted in 2006 by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, reviewed 32 studies on firefighters to determine the cancer risk.  The study’s results confirmed previous findings of an elevated risk for multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, prostate, and testicular cancers.  Eight additional cancers were listed as having a “possible” association with firefighting.  In a three-year study completed in 2005 by the University of Cincinnati, researchers concluded that firefighters face a 102% greater chance of contracting testicular cancer than any other type of worker, a 53% greater chance of multiple myeloma, a 51% greater chance of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a 39% greater chance of skin cancer, a 32% greater chance of brain cancer, a 28% greater chance of prostate cancer, a 22% greater chance of stomach cancer, and a 21% greater chance of colon cancer.  “Firefighters are exposed to numerous cancer-causing substances,” said head researcher Grace LeMasters.  “I think obviously they have not got enough protection from that exposure.  We feel that the protective gear that protects them from acute exposures, such as heat and carbon monoxide, doesn’t protect them from the chemical residues that cause cancer.”

But in spite of numerous findings pointing to an increased cancer risk among firefighters, as well as presumptive laws that have been passed in certain states, it is still an uphill battle for many firefighters to try to prove that their cancer is job related so they can get the medical care they need.  According to an article written by the International Association of Firefighters, Dave Potter had been a dedicated firefighter in Puyallup, Washington, for 16 years in 2005 when he learned he had T-cell lymphocytic leukemia.  Potter contracted the cancer as a result of dangerous toxins he had been exposed to on the job.  Even though Washington had enacted presumptive laws, Potter died before he received the treatment he needed.  “He died because he needed a bone marrow transplant, and could not afford the $60,000 cost of the procedure,” explained Kevin Rojecki, legislative liaison for the Washington State Council of Firefighters.  “He died because his workers compensation claim was denied.” 

Firefighter Fighting Fire imageBill Humbert, a retired Portland, Oregon firefighter, had been on the job 10 years when he found a lump on his neck that turned out to be non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.  He, too, was sick due to on-the-job exposure.  At the time Oregon did not have presumptive laws.  Humbert’s cancer is currently in remission, and he is advocating on behalf of other firefighters to pass presumptive legislation in Oregon.

Like Humbert, Code 3 for a Cure President and Founder Lorenzo Abundiz experienced the same type of nightmare in 1998 while still on active duty, after serving for 26 years as a Firefighter, when he found a lump on his right rear chest wall that turned out to be leiomyosarcoma, a rare and highly aggressive cancer that attacks the muscle tissue and can quickly spread.  Abundiz’s employer denied his request for workers’ compensation benefits, claiming that his cancer was not caused by his firefighting career.  Having never smoked a cigarette in his life, Abundiz found it hard to believe that the cancer was not caused by his firefighting career.  Because the City initially denied his claim for benefits, Abundiz’s much needed surgery was delayed by one month because of the lengthy HMO approval process.  By the time he finally got the surgery he needed, the tumor had grown to the size of a golf ball and had spread.  In spite of an oncologist’s testimony to the contrary, the City stood fast on its position that Abundiz's cancer was not related to his 27-year firefighting career.

As the above cases illustrate, in addition to going through the trauma of a cancer diagnosis, surgery and/or treatment, firefighters not covered under workers’ compensation often end up having to pay hefty bills for their medical care, their medical care is delayed, or they don’t receive the critical care they need because they cannot afford it, as in Dave Potter’s case.  In addition to the stress of trying to prove their cancer was  job related (if they have the energy or the means to do so), the financial stress caused by escalating medical bills only adds to the stress they are already under and further undermines the healing process. 

The fact that cancer affects millions of people all over the world, and the fact that there is a proven correlation between firefighting and cancer, confirm both the need to eradicate the terrible disease and, until a cure is found, help alleviate the suffering of its victims; more specifically, its firefighter victims. There are currently no known organizations that provide financial relief specifically for active or retired firefighters diagnosed with cancer, and there is currently a lack of an adequate system to ensure they receive the critical health care and support they need. Thus, it is necessary that programs be implemented specifically for them, based on both their elevated risk of contracting the disease and the lack of affordable critical health care. This is why Code 3 for a Cure exists.

WLFI 18 Lafayette

KSEE 24 Fresno