I’m proud to call Marshall both a friend and a brother. We work in the same Fire Department. I’ve known Marshall for a number of years but this conversation is deeper than anything I’d known previously. Marshall discusses his battle with cancer, life after cancer, losing a crew member, and his personal struggles at home. I can’t thank him enough for the time and investment he gave.
Stack: uh, oh, if you see me play with this, I’m just turning my mic off. Yeah, no problem. All right. So if you’re ready, we can, I can see if I can butcher this intro and we’ll go from there.
Let’s do it. All right. Today, we’re sitting down with Marshall he’s out of Virginia, he’s been a firefighter for 14 years paramedic for the entire time. He’s here to talk about his story, some of his experiences in the fire service and some of his experiences outside of the fire service before he even joined, which affected him in the fire service and in family life to today.
So I’m gonna let Marshall talk a little bit about his family, his background, his fire service history, and then we’ll get into the meat and potatoes of his story. So how you doing
Marshall: Marshall? Doing great. Appreciate you having me. I know we talked about this before but I think it’s really important what you’re doing, bringing a light to this.
So I’m more than happy to share my story. As you mentioned, I’ve been in the fire department going on 14 years, 14 years next month. My story’s a little unique in that my journey started with it was a cancer diagnosis that flipped my life upside down that ended up pushing me. into a fire department career.
So a little bit about me. I grew up in Alexandria, Virginia born and raised. I was a three sport athlete in high school. Very competitive guy went to college. I was at Frostburg state university playing football. And that was when my life was completely flipped upside down by my cancer diagnosis at age 19.
And so it was after that cancer diagnosis where I was at a crossroads very early on, as I was entering my twenties, what do you want to do with life? And I started thinking about things. I still very much wanted to be part of a team part of something larger than myself and thought a career in the fire service would be something that would be a really good way to stay in that competitive environment.
And as a way for me to continue to do something physical and very challeng.
Stack: and so 14 years in a fire service puts us at what year did you join the fire
Marshall: department? It was 2008. I started recruit school. It was, I still remember the date. The hire date, July 21st, 2008.
Stack: And you talked about your cancer diagnosis in college and how that turned your life upside down.
Do you wanna talk about some of what that cancer was and what the treatment was and how it affected the imediacy
Marshall: Of your life at that time? So pretty much. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I’ll give you a little bit of the story leading into that. I was at Frostburg state. It was the night before our first inter squad scrimmage, and I woke up one night and could not use the bathroom.
I remember being in so much pain. I had a pain in my pelvis and in my back, which later I learned to be, my kidneys were failing. I woke up that night, middle of the night and could not use the restroom. And I just felt this pressure in my back. So I ended up going to the hospital. It was sacred heart hospital in Western, Maryland, and they ended up doing an MRI, but before they did an MRI, they realized that there’s a lot of urinary retention here.
So they tried unsuccessfully to advance a catheter. so this whole painful process started with pain from the very beginning trying to force a catheter in wouldn’t go. The tumor was pushing up when the urethra originating from the prostate ended up getting an MRI. I got the MRI and I remember the physician sitting down with me saying, Hey, look, I am not sure what this is at this point.
I do know however that we are not equipped to deal with this in Western, Maryland. My recommendation would be for you to go back to the DC area and really see what this is and what’s going on. But I do think it’s serious. So at that point I was like, okay, I guess this is it. So I called my parents and told them what was going on.
And they. Immediately drove out to Western, Maryland from Alexandria, Virginia brought a U-Haul with impact. All my stuff came home and we became, we started on this journey to figure out what in the world is going on. So I meet with an oncologist, a pediatric oncologist. Even though I was a young adult, usually these types of growths, these things that they see on MRIs can be an adolescent or pediatric cancer.
So they wanted to rule initially started out. They wanted to rule that out. So I met with the oncologist who said I need to send you to a urologist to biopsy this. So they ended up doing the biopsy. They sent it to the Cleveland clinic and it came back. And that’s when I realized or learned that I was being diagnosed with Rado myo sarcoma.
It is a very rare childhood cancer and it impacts two age groups. early childhood. So from birth to about age four or five, and then late adolescent, so age 15 to age 19. And so there’s two subtypes. One is Embrel and not to bore everybody, but there’s two subtypes and one is a lot more aggressive. And because my subtype was the more aggressive one that kicked off another cascade of events.
Okay. Now you need pet scans. Now you need cat scans. Now we need to scan the whole body and see what’s going on. So all the results came back from everything and the news just kept getting worse. Initially they were saying four out of five will walk from this. But if it’s the more aggressive subtype, we’re looking more at a 40 to 50% shot.
And if it’s spread outside of the pelvis, then we’re probably looking at a 15, 25% chance of survival. So it was a lot to digest. But I was still hopeful before we getting all the results that, know, maybe I would get some good news here, cuz everything up to this point has been either painful or just terrible news.
It can’t possibly continue to get worse and then it continue to get worse. So they said not only has it escaped the pelvis and the pelvic lymph nodes, but it’s in three or four places in your abdomen, your left lung. And we believe we see portions on your brain. So at that point it’s like everything I still remember at, to this day, the wallpaper in that room.
I remember what the doctor was wearing. I remember what I was wearing. I remember the look on my mother’s face. and the doctor asked, do you want your mom to stay in the room while I tell you the rest? And I said, sure. I don’t. At this point, it is what it is. I don’t see the benefit to having her out
so we sat in the room and that’s when the oncologist said, here’s what’s gonna happen. Here’s what your next year is going to look like. And if the cancer doesn’t kill you, there’s a decent chance. The treatment will, but we’re going off the cuff because we get one chance to cure this. And so I was taking all this in I’m 19 years old.
Yeah. I was gonna say as a
Stack: 19 year old taking it all
Marshall: in, I was 19 years old. I’m like, wait a minute, literally last night, I was prepping for our first game, our first inter squad scrimmage. I did really well on that training camp. I was challenging some of the older guys and I felt really good.
So I had still had coaches that still didn’t know what really was going on. Like I just vanished from Frostburg state and my life was just in doctor’s offices over this next three, four days. And the coach and staff didn’t even know where it went, really. So I’m getting tests, I’m getting all these things and it all culminated in that office where now it’s okay here’s your next year.
Here’s what it’s gonna look like. You’re gonna undergo 52 weeks of chemotherapy. And some of the chemos that we have to give you are, unfortunately, there’s not a lot of good news with them. There are a lot of the chemos that we’ve traditionally seen in the sixties, seventies and eighties. and you’re gonna get blasted with them.
And so there’s gonna be medications that we have to give you to coat your bladder. You’re gonna get doxorubicin. It’s a very my prognosis was an awful one. And at the time. it completely changed me because immediately, and I wish that I could sit here and tell you that I handled it really well.
And I was strong and I was lift strong, but I completely shut myself off to the world. I went into a very deep depression. I started viewing myself in the past tense and I powerful chemotherapeutic agent. So that was part of my protocol. He mentioned once, if we get the metastases cleared and you become a candidate for surgery, you’re gonna have surgery at dons Hopkins university.
And then when everything is done, if you get to that point, you’re gonna have 32 radiation treatments. So we had, so the course of that year, it was 2004 that I was diagnosed with cancer. And it was like, everything just kept getting began scouring the internet, and things weren’t as accessible in 2004 as they are now. Google still existed.
I was just trying to find some testimonials from people that have survived this beast. I don’t think I found a single. Case in which somebody had something comparable to what I did. And then you would read the updates and it always ended in their death. So I just assumed that was gonna be the natural progression for me.
And so I detached myself from the world. I didn’t want people getting to close to me. I didn’t want I started thinking ahead, it was like, I’m not gonna see my sisters graduate high school. Oh boy, how’s my mom gonna process burying a kid and just the suddenness of life going great competing in college athletics being out on my own, off campus apartment life was supposed to be just beginning for me.
And I was forced like that snap of a finger to now face mortality. So over the course of the next year, just getting blasted by chemotherapy. And every time I needed to get chemotherapy at a stay Fairfax hospital for three or four nights at a time, because with the doxorubicin that I mentioned it attacks the bladder.
So they have to give you medication that coats the bladder. So it doesn’t tear your bladder apart. So for the better part of a year, that was my routine. So I was going through all these emotions, getting punished by this treatment. I was 210 pound wide receiver in college after about four or five months of chemo, because just the aggressive dosaging just to have a shot to get into remission.
I lost over a hundred pounds. At one point I was 110 pounds lost all hair. Still. Remember the night I was in the shower I was just trying to just release some stress, take a boiling hot shower, put the shampoo in the hair. And my hair was all literally all the hair that I had was an essentially two clumps in my palms.
And at the same time, eyelashes and eyebrows started to just peel away. So there was a lot of struggle with, this is my new identity. I can’t even eat a regular meal. The chemos were giving me mouth sores down my esophagus. So one bite of food would hurt in six different places. I felt like I was gonna die.
I was resigned to the fact I knew I was gonna die and I completely viewed myself in the past tense. And the process. I completely disconnected from every, everybody around me. And, I had people reaching out and trying to give motivation and I wish I could say I handled it well and took it in stride and I’m gonna fight this beast, but I really, I just shelled off and went into a deep depression and just angry.
And about three, four months into that, I started to get little pieces of good news. Okay. We don’t necessarily, we don’t see it in the lungs. It doesn’t mean it’s not there, but we have reason to believe that you’re responding. And then they measure the size of the tumor and the prostate. And initially what they thought was originating from the prostate, invading the bladder.
Then the good news was it’s just resting against the bladder, not necessarily invading the bladder wall. So we have reason to believe you’ll be a candidate for surgery if it trims this way, because we won’t have to, it won’t be that. Extreme of an operation. It’ll just, we feel it’ll peel off if we remove the prostate.
So I got kept getting little pieces of good news enough to keep going with the treatment. It was just purely exhausted. By going through that gauntlet, just to have a chance to stay alive and even if it wasn’t a good one. So towards month, nine month 10, now I’m a candidate for surgery.
So I go to John Hopkins, I have the surgery. And at that point they say this surgery was successful right now. You’re N E D no evidence of disease. And I asked, am I in remission? We don’t wanna call it remission yet. Your subtype is super aggressive. So we’re just gonna see how things go. And we still want you to continue on with radiation.
Cuz one of the first questions I asked was, does this mean I can skip radiation? Yeah, naturally that would be a first question. Yeah. Cuz if I can. If I can avoid some of this poison right. Then I would really like to do that. But that’s when they said, no, we need you. We need to have the radiation because the statistics show that there’s a little less chance of relapse if you get the radiation.
So we’re just gonna radiate your pelvis and do a lighter dose radiation to your chest. And I’m going through the radiation. And by this point now I don’t necessarily know if I’m gonna live or die. I still have prepared for almost 10 months now that I was gonna die from this and accepted that. And it sounds weird to say that it sounds like there’s a little machismo to it, but when you’ve been diagnosed with something like that and forced to face your mortality, it stresses you out.
It’s such a consistent stressor. Eventually you just accept it and that I’m gonna die. And it’s not because I’m trying to exaggerate or. Or overemphasize the fact, but I just knew I was gonna die. And the reason I’m saying that is because now when they come back and say, you’re no evidence of disease, you’re in remission and I’m at month 12 and I’m getting ready to go to my last chemotherapy session.
It’s oh, wait a minute. I never thought I was getting to this point. I never, for a second thought I was getting to this point where you’re no evidence of disease. Technically now they’re starting to use the R word remission. And what next I’ve never thought about what next. Never given ne I’d never, it was terrifying to think.
Looking too far down the road, like it’s normal for a 1920 year old to look five, 10 years down the road, where am I gonna be? Where am I gonna be working? But anytime I would look down the road, I just viewed myself in a cemetery. So I’m so I’m thinking, wait a minute. I. This the IVs, the central lines, the appointments the for night hospital stays.
This became my routine. This became my safety zone. This became my life. It became something that was regimented that kind of took my mind off mortality and death. And how are these people around me gonna pick up the pieces? My mom gonna financially be crushed by whatever debt is left behind from this.
So I was just never in the mindset of there’s a next chapter here. That’s post-cancer for you. It’s a weird
Stack: dichotomy of focused on death. You believe you’re gonna die but the cure, not the cure, that’s a bad word, but the way to get your focus off of your belief that you’re gonna die is to try to beat it.
But you’re still convinced you’re
Marshall: gonna die. Oh yeah. So it was like, I knew I was gonna die, but I hope I don’t. So I started to get the little pieces of good news. It was enough to motivate to continue the fight. Ultimately, I just, I thought it was gonna be, was not gonna survive this. So at the point now where it’s a, I’m a year out, I’ve just, I had my last chemotherapy.
I’m 120 pounds. I see eyebrow follicles starting to grow back little peach fuzz on my head and they say, go live life. You’re in remission now. And I’m like, I’ve I honestly, I have not prepared for this. And it made me incredibly anxious. It made me incredibly anxious. As they explained, there was two trains of thought.
I’m very excited that I don’t have to undergo this treatment and that can have some normal. . But at the, on the other hand, they were saying all the documented relapses from your disease happened within the first two years off treatment. So what we’re gonna do is you’re gonna have the full, you’re gonna have the full every three months, the blood work, the scans, the cat scans, the MRIs, if we need to do MRIs.
And my doctor was very brutally honest, and I appreciate that. But at the time, I didn’t like being around him because I just felt like there was never anything, but it’s not his job to gimme good news. It’s his job. To be honest, I was an adult. And so I just felt like it was very weird to hear him say, you’re in remission, go live life.
Because my life, that was my entire life for a year. So then I started thinking, what in the world do I do now? So I struggled with what’s next for me? What do I do from here? And that’s when I started thinking about things and it just, wasn’t very practical to go back to Frostburg state.
So I figured I wanted to do something close to home that interests me, that isn’t going to leave my family in a lot of debt or, lot of stress. So I just wanna do something simple. And so I started thinking about what would be something that you see yourself doing that would give you some fulfillment?
Cuz I still, at this point, even though I’m in remission, I don’t think I’m gonna live very long. I, this wasn’t a case where I would look into my future and see me around in my thirties. So that’s when I started really getting interested in emergency medicine. something that requires quick thinking in the right now, a fire department career became very appealing to me.
And as I was recovering and getting healthy, I enrolled in the paramedic program at Northern Virginia community college. I talked to a few people that, that began fire department careers few years before me, and just picking their brains a little bit. Everybody mentioned that getting your paramedic certification would make you a little more competitive in the hiring process.
Prince William county came to a hiring fair the time it was Lieutenant Orefice who came out to the recruiting fair and mentioned, Hey, we need people for our July class. I had just became certified that may one thing led to another, went through the application process. Prince William was the first to offer and full head of steam.
I began pursuing the fire department career. So just a quick
Stack: shout out, cuz I have to do it to, to who I know as captain Orefice. He was my first captain and now a battalion chief in our department and one of the good guys in the department. So that’s great. That was that your, that was your link
Marshall: to the fire department.
That was the link. He was very he sold prince William county. He did the job. He mentioned that it was gonna be a growing department. There was lots of opportunity. There’s a definite need for paramedics. And he encouraged me to apply. And I did, and I remember I was in the application process with a few jurisdictions, but to his credit, everything moved the quickest with prince William county.
And I felt like everything was on accelerated clock and I don’t have time to waste because if I wanna experience any part of this. I just need to go. I just need to go. So I started the academy in July of that year. All right. So real quick,
Stack: just a synopsis of your time in the fire department.
What have you done? What some of your assignments and where are you now in the department?
Marshall: Okay. So when I started, I, when I graduate at the academy, I went to medic four, which is in Gainesville. And I spent time both on the medic and on the engine doing all my rookie training and probationary manuals and all that.
And then, so I spent my first few years at four, I was pretty lucky. I got to spend the first three and a half, four years of my career at four. So then from four, I went to medical 11. I thought at that point it was time to go for one of those high volume action packed shifts and sought out medical 11 had a great time at 11, spent a few years there.
Ran the absolute best and worst of humanity. my time at 11 saw a lot of different things. And then from 11, I went to engine eight to do my tech two training, and then I ended up getting transferred to Medic 8 because the transport unit now was a newer thing at eight. So it was part of the launch of medic 5 0 8 and then for medic 5 0 8, I went to the academy initially as the tech two assigned to the paramedic program as the training coordinator.
And from there, I took the lieutenant’s process and then stayed at the academy in my first assignment. As a Lieutenant has been as a initial education training Lieutenant for EMS training. And so I’ve spent the last four years at the academy and then this August, I head to fire station 24. So back on a
Stack: medic unit, back on a medic unit, maybe some
Marshall: Engine time on the one on one model.
So I’m excited to get over there. So I,
Stack: we can get into all kinds of stuff, cuz you’ve seen your fair share of calls and I know what we want to talk about here. And it was from 2014 when you were station eight you wanna talk about the station in 2014 and some of at that to crew and how you guys get got along and how you guys
Oh, absolutely. So I was sent. There was at the time it was chief Shifflet. It was Lieutenant adomo at the time when I was at 11, I was at tech one and I took my time as a tech one. It was one of the things that worked
Stack: for me. So a a brief thing here, tech one in the department is the, it, I don’t wanna say lowest.
It’s the lowest ranking firefighter in, in our
Marshall: fire department. So the structure goes tech, one tech, two Lieutenant, captain, chief, and so on and so forth. But I wanted to take my time as a tech one, I was enjoying it and I really wanted to feel like I was experienced and could handle Mo everything at the technician level before I took that process.
And so one of those things was when I was at 11, even though I was having a great time, it was really hard to leave medical 11. I felt like if I was gonna take. The tech two process and get ready for that next step and, ride the seat of an engine that I wanted to be on an engine. And I wanted to go to a day work engine.
So I had the opportunity for talking with chief Shifflet Lieutenant adomo. There was an opening, it was a vacancy at engine eight. And so when I got moved to engine eight, it was with captain Erickson and I was told, Hey, you’re also gonna get a chance to work with Marcello Trejo. And so he was transferred at the same time.
We had a rookie Jose Reanos, it was matched Stewart at the time, and we just clicked as a crew very early on. We had a great time at station eight. I learned a lot and I was assigned to Marcello. He was gonna do my tech two mentoring. And so the really interesting thing about that was I knew Marcello from.
Around the department. And anytime you roll in details, you just always had a good time with him. And he was really big into the CPAT stuff. So there was some, so we knew him from there. And so in 2014 I was really enjoying life. It was my first time, my first true where you’re assigned to an engine company.
I understood it. The need was for me to be on medic years before that, but I had an opportunity to go to an engine company, do it every day, do the engine checkout every day under the eye of Marcello. So he took me under his wing, took us all under his wing really. And we just got close.
The crew we worked out together every day. We shared a food pantry at, there were times where during that five o’clock hour, you know, before. You shut down shop at 1800 where we would just go out and shoot hoops in the back. And just little things like that. Now we got really close and that was unbeknownst to me at the time the 2014 was gonna be a very trying year.
Stack: Tell me a little bit about Marcello, cuz our department knows him and some departments outside of prince William know Marcello because of things that have happened. But give us a little background on Marcello.
Marshall: What was he like? So Marcello he was he’s just so there was just so much passion and joy for being a firefighter.
He was somebody that took great pride in being a mentor and he really wore on his sleeve and we had a rookie at the time who was struggling. And they would tell you that and they have since moved on, but there were times where everybody else would get frustrated. And, but if he had to explain something 25 times, he would explain 25 times to somebody.
And there was never a, there was never a judgemental tone to it. And the happiness that he got from other people enjoying the job was always something that stood out very passionate about PT and station comp. The things that bring people together at the station were all the things that stood out about him, the comradery, the conversations at the front bumper, the things that, we tend to take for granted were all things that he naturally got people to gravitate towards.
So we look forward to kicking the little hack. I never kicked a hacky sack around in my life, but one of the things that he liked to do was go to the front engine and just kick the hacky sack. The. Snack time with Trejo. He always pack his food pantry with all kinds of stuff. Just those little trips to the food pantry, working out together in the morning and the genuine happiness that he would get from somebody enjoying the job.
He would spend time just if they were I’m just, if there was 15, 20 minutes around the station, you could probably find him cleaning one of his tools or looking on the internet for a new accessory to go in his gear. He just loved the job. And because of that, when you see somebody that both is he’s willing to be a mentor and they love the job so much, and they’re so inviting with their personality, it’s very easy to get really close with somebody, develop a close bond in a rather short period of time, which is what I felt happen at station eight.
Stack: You mentioned when we spoke before Marcella was going through some stuff in his private life as well. , I don’t know how much you wanna get into that.
Marshall: So I do know that he had some mental health struggles. He alluded to those openly in conversations at the station sometimes where he mentioned that he was particularly struggling with depression and bouts of anxiety and mentioned that he had received treatment for that in the past.
And he didn’t talk about it a lot. But we did have those conversations at the station level. So we knew that it existed. We knew that it was something that he would talk about with us and in, in private at times, were there any
Stack: other signs around the station of any of that,
Marshall: This is a great question because.
You always think back, was there something that could have opened our eyes to maybe that something in particular was really bothering him or getting to him? And honestly I can’t say that there were any signs to us. He was maintaining and doing well. We felt as if the environment as station eight was really good for him.
We felt that we were cohesive. And so there was nothing, at least to me that, that stood out as any particular red flag. But we did know that these were things that he has struggled with in the past. And that he’s been fairly open about it in conversations at the station. And so we would have, we would have, and it was never too much in depth, but he would let you in and have some of those discussions here and there.
At the station. So
Stack: again I’m leaving it open to you, cuz if you wanted to tell the story of how of what
Marshall: transpired. Okay. So coming up on July 4th, 2014. So we’ll just start with the bombshell we were called. It was at the time tech two Drexler, Ben Drexler, a close friend of mine were partners on the medic union for years, right around the time that.
Medic 5 0 8 went live. It was still the day work engine. So it was early on when me medic 5 0 8 went live. I think we were only a few weeks in where the shift work medic still intersected during the week with the engine. And so I had transitioned from being on the engine crew to now being assigned to the medic unit.
And so we were on shift July 4th, but there was plans and talks of people at the station meeting and celebrating July 4th with Trejo. So we got a call from captain Erickson who called over to the station and asked us, I remember he, I got on the phone. He said, Hey, I need you to sit down.
So when he, when. I can feel through the tone of the conversation that, okay this what happened? So we’re sitting down putting on a speaker phone and that’s when he informed us that Marcelo had died by suicide. And that day, July 4th, 2014 is something that I can remember the conversation.
I can remember where it was sitting. It completely stands out to me as a day that I’ll never forget because I had never been in a situation in life. And this is somebody that’s been through a cancer diagnosis that dealt with something as gut wrenching, as losing somebody. And it’s very hard to explain to somebody who hasn’t necessarily done what we’ve done to explain all the little ways, even if you don’t necessarily see eye to eye with somebody at the station, the closeness.
whether you want to admit it or not, you become close with people in ways that is hard to describe to, to people that, that don’t do this for a living, or have not been exposed to this, but to lose somebody from your crew. The sudden finality of just the permanence of the of Trejo being gone just threw us completely.
And there was no, nobody was prepared for that news. Nobody was willing to accept that nobody knew what to do. Next. You had a firehouse and a department just full of traumatized people, because this was completely, it was just such a shock and everything over those next few weeks months was just so eerie.
it’s like the conversations we had because in the same year, my son, my first son was due when my first child was due that fall. And we had so many conversations about him coming and helping with the crib. He loves painting nurseries and he wanted to come and do that. And just the little conversations and even leaving, leading up to two days before July 4th, he was still planning gym contracts with people coming in and getting some new gym equipment station eight.
And even the person that he was working with would call called the station two or three weeks later. And nobody knew how to tell this contractor who became close with him because, he was just very welcoming personality and he was very excited to take on that project at the station eight gym and even the con the gym con Jim source contractor that was gonna be getting the equipment.
When we told her the. just stunned. And over the next few months, it was like grappling with the finality of this and little things. Like his locker still cracked open. His snacks are still in the pantry. His basketball shoes are still under his laptop. The keyboard is still in the position that he left it and nobody wanted to touch his stuff.
We wanted to leave it there. We spent hours hours watching his YouTube videos, where he’s just being dad to his daughter, who he loved dearly and the videos he had with his dog. He was very good with videography. And even at the time looking back, it’s pretty impressive that he was doing those things and.
2014, but we were just watch those videos over and over. And
at that point in my life, and really most of us could probably say the same thing. It just completely stopped us in our tracks.
Stack: It stops you how
Marshall: immediately there was an anger, the why the hell would you do that? We needed you here. Your daughter needs you here. So there was some anger. And then there was a, and I know in my case, and I won’t speak for anybody else. I was going back. I was reexamining calls. Did I miss something? Did I miss a sign?
Did I miss an instance in which he was reaching out? Was I in tune? Was my mind elsewhere? Was I connecting the way I should be? And just the, I just, it was just analysis paralysis at that point. Like I think I replayed every conversation we had. I was looking for little clues and I’d just spent so much time doing that, that I just became mentally exhausted.
And even at the, even at his funeral still, I still couldn’t process. just the complete, just the suddenness, the how unexpected it was and just how it deeply hurt. It was very hard. It was very hard to be at his funeral and it was this complete spectrum of emotions. It was a beautiful service. But damnit, we shouldn’t be here.
And just seeing the pain in people’s faces because at this point, even though I knew him for years, it was mainly in passing and in details, but it wasn’t until those six, seven months that we were stationed together, where I feel like we had a really good bond in that time. Whereas there were people that have been lifelong friends with him and people that he spent his entire career being close with.
And there was just so many people impacted by that. And I remember thinking I have to do something with this anxious, revisionist need to try to recreate and feel this void with something productive because I’m gonna drive myself crazy. So then, as we got it into the winter of 2014 and my son was born and I was on baby leave.
That’s when I really started thinking that we really need to do something as a department because man if we have to go through this again, and as we get bigger and we start to reflect general population, the concern would be that this is not an isolated event. And so what can I do with my standing in the department?
Is there something more that I can do? And so that’s when I started really looking for ways to connect with people and started to have these conversations about mental health. This is when I started to pursue the peer support route and realize that we have a very loud siren going off in this department and the fire service in general.
And what can I do to get on the other side of this thing?
Stack: Take an interest in the department and the department’s mental health. And what did
Marshall: you do for yourself? I did absolutely nothing for myself. And so to paint the picture for this, when I was explaining earlier, how just the suddenness, the breakneck speed in which you’re fighting for your life, fighting for your life chemo, radiation surgery.
Oh, by the way, you’re in remission go live life. It was like somebody was had kinked to garden hose, and then just let it go and said go. And so I was the water in the garden hose and it’s okay, pursue the fire department career all that time. You spent thinking about your mortality. You’re a young guy in your twenties.
Forget about it. Now, go live life, go run the calls, go run the nasty car accidents, run into the burning buildings. Forget about all that stuff that happened to you when you were 19. I didn’t realize at the time, because I couldn’t verbalize it and couldn’t pinpoint it, that my cancer diagnosis gave me terrible anxiety.
And so I was able to function with it, but that racing, that internal clock that you’re not gonna be on this earth very long. You don’t have much time here. Everything felt like it was an accelerated pace. My mind is always racing. I just felt like the speed in which life was moving was at light speed.
Never could internalize that as me being anxious. So I worked the fire department career. I go my first six years. in the department, just in a bliss at the same time. Now I meet my wife. I’m I understand that there are things that are just different about me because of that. But I’m I spent the first six, seven years, the first half of my career suppressing, some of that didn’t wanna scare off my now wife.
So it’s come on, get over it. Cancer was in the past, you have a career now, your full head of steam, just deal with it. So then the situation with trio happened and I’m at a crossroads now where it’s I need to do something for others. I gotta prevent this. And so in a lot of ways, I think that I felt as if I was of self-treating by doing something right.
I’m gonna emphasize. I’m gonna be a beacon for mental health in the department. I’m gonna have these conversations with people. I’m gonna make connections with people and take on that mentorship role. That trio was so passionate about. And this whole time I’m not, I’m still after years, not facing facing the, just the, and it’s really hard to explain cuz anxiety takes on different forms and different people.
And with me, it just felt like my mind was always moving so fast. That, and I was always, I just felt like my life had an expiration on it. And so I gotta do all these things and do all this stuff and get married and have kids and have the career and move up the ladder and the career so that when I die, my obituary will read, did this survived by?
I felt like I had to do all these things. it didn’t just, I didn’t realize, I just thought it was a byproduct of surviving cancer and not something that I could actually fix. So I just dealt with it. But after, the little scars of the career, the calls that stand out, the things that you remember, you add it to the trauma that, I dealt with before getting hired.
And then you add the little cuts. Then you add the big event with trejo, and then you’re in the aftermath where, okay, this is still very much a problem. I’m struggling grappling with what has happened with trejo is very hard for me to think about his daughter growing up with. And so there’s those little seeds of doubt.
Come in, you get angry again. You get sad again. You get happy again because you start to remember some of the great conversations you. so those emotions running the gambit. And then finally, now I start to realize that as my son is growing up and we’re starting to see that he’s having some struggles, I never dealt with the aftermath of the cancer diagnosis.
I feel like I tried to hide everything by being very active in my fire department career, we had the big trauma losing Marcello, and then I’m trying to transition becoming a father and a poor. I feel like I pour everything into, okay I’m not gonna be around for my kids very long, cuz even now it’s hard for me to think about myself here into my sixties and seventies.
It’s almost like I’m living in overtime and it wasn’t until recently that I got help with that. But now my son’s starting to have some struggles. So you talk about from 2014 to beyond to where we are now, my son is starting to get into the preschool age, starting to have some some focus problems, some issues with aggression, just a very anxious disposition kicked out of preschools.
We’re trying to find out what is wrong. We, my wife and I got him on an I E P at age three because there was just lots of behaviors that were troublesome and he was starting to embrace the kid that was isolated, the trouble kid. I started thinking I’m not gonna be around when he’s a teenager or when he’s a man.
So we gotta fix this now. So all my resources were, get him the IEP, get him a counselor, get him on the right therapy. Get him on the right course. And so I just feel like through the course of my adulthood, there’s always been something that has been distracting me from addressing things that I’m struggling with or how can I truly work on myself.
So it all came to a head in, in 2020 when my wife left her job and to the main impetus behind that was that sh she could be home with the kids and be with Jackson, our son, and be the fixture in his life to be the consistent, if he needs to go to therapy, he goes to therapy. If he needs to go to appointments, she does all that.
And she’s that consistent presence in his life. We didn’t think that we, and it got to a point where it was like, we can’t pay somebody or to have another presence. achieve the end result that we want with him. So she left a career that she worked very hard to obtain. She was a CPA. So now she’s home.
Stay at home mom. And we went to a one income. We were a one income household in Loudoun county and the totality of I never addressed underlying anxiety. I don’t think I ever truly fully processed what losing Trejo did to me. I just immediately seek to how can I take a tangible step to, to help others, the issues with my son, the fact that now we need to move from Louden county to a cheaper area to make this work, the stress of working overtime everything came to a very explosive conclusion with.
At this point, now my wife and I were arguing all the time and right before she was able to leave her job. It’s okay. He got kicked outta preschool again, who’s getting him. Are you picking him up? Am I picking him up? I can’t leave. I’m teaching. I can’t leave. I have a client and the stress of one of his tests cost $1,500 and it’s this specialist and it’s that specialist and it’s this meeting and it’s this IEP and we were just starting to fray.
So I got to a point where it’s okay. You never addressed what facing your mortality did to you. You just push it aside. You started to meet your wife, you suppress some of these things. You start, you get the little cuts from the fire department career, the situation with trejo and just how it shocking.
That was and how that to knocked us all. Then it progresses into the issues with my son and everything now is just, my head was so foggy that I was having a hard time focusing at work. I was just, I was tired all the time. My dietary habits were terrible. I was frustrated all the time. I was dis I was becoming disrespectful to my wife.
We were fighting, arguing all the time and I was hitting below the belt. There were things that I was saying to her that I’ll never get back. And I don’t know what exact day it was. But it was during the move. We were reestablished were, we were full head of steam, starting a new life down in call pep.
We’re gonna move to an area that’s more, we’re gonna be family centered. We’re gonna have the yard. Everything’s gonna be fixed. but it was during the move that all these things, just the stress of everything, the feeling like I have no answers, no outs and truly felt helpless was where I finally came to the realization.
If I don’t do something, I’m gonna lose my marriage. My I’m not gonna be the father. My children need, I’m not modeling the behaviors that my son who has very specific, special needs. I’m not helping him in any way. I’m failing in a lot of different areas. I’m not managing very well to, to on the outside.
People probably think I’m maintaining and doing pretty well. But I certainly, that’s not the case. That’s not the actual truth on the inside. I finally, as a 35 year old man, just let go of feeling like I need to control the narrative. No, I don’t need any special treatment. No, I don’t need anybody to talk to.
Yes, I’ll deal with this. I let go of that. And finally got the help that I needed way too late way too far into manhood into adulthood. But at that time in 2020 was when, for the first time in my adult life, I felt like I started to have some control through therapy. I was able to connect with a therapist who was able to put a lot of things in context to slow down that internal clock a little bit and to say essentially, it’s okay to feel as if, because you, what you went through.
You’re not gonna be here for a very long time, but how can we put a plan in place to limit those thoughts? So they just, don’t devour you all day. If you want to have some of those thoughts and you wanna really think about things that could potentially go wrong and you wanna do that for 10, 15 minutes.
Okay, great. But you need to set a limit to that and develop some control over it. So if I stress something today, I see a study that comes out that says, oh, Radomi sarcoma survivors that had radiation or at an increased risk for this in their forties or fifties. I can’t let that completely destroy my entire day, but I can also, I can validate it by, okay, let me read this for 10 minutes.
Let me process this and let me do something else for my own. Good. So it was through therapy and putting it in context that I’m like, what would’ve happened? Where would I have been. How strong would my marriage be right now, if I did this at 29, if I did this at 28, or if I did this before Marcello, where would I, did I miss something?
Would I, would my mind have been clear? Could I connect it in a more effective way? Who knows, like you asked those questions, but it was legitimately the first time in a long time or the first time in my adult life that I felt like maybe there is another side to this. Maybe this can get better. Maybe I can slow down the internal clock and the survivor’s guilt and all these things that just come from the fire department career and the previous cancer diagnosis.
Maybe there is a way to cope with this and I’ll learn that. Yeah, there is. And you know what it feels good and it feels good to say that. So I connected with a therapist. I would’ve never considered. going on in anxiety med, what a low dose anxiety med combined with therapy for me was the combination that allowed things to slow down enough, to communicate with my wife a lot more effectively to be a father that does not have a really short fuse to be a better.
And for me, for right now, this assignment being an educator, EMS educator when I started to tackle these problems and become a little more open about them, things started to get better. And when I say get better, it means it’s always gonna be a peak and valley type of ordeal. But my wife and I are the connection is there.
We’ve really worked salvage. Our marriage and when it could have gone one way, we were at the fork in the road it led to us renewing our vows and renewing the commitment in front of our children. I feel like I have a plan to help my son he’s doing better in school. I just feel if only I had addressed this and been more open about it and more honest about it with myself, I just, I wonder maybe how things would’ve gone.
I feel good about what I was able to accomplish while struggling with those things. But now that I know what it feels like to have a plan and to address it and to understand that, Hey, sometimes like the saying goes, strength requires maintenance. So I know that maintenance is very much a part of it.
So as I enter this next chapter of life, I feel actually good about it. I’m not overwhelmed by am I gonna die from this? Is the radiation gonna cause a late effect is one of the chemos is the secondary cancer gonna come. What, if it happens, I’ll deal with it when it happens, but how much life am I gonna waste worrying about that right now?
And then, you have all the things with all the studies showing that we’re at increased risk in the fire service of some of these things. So it’s my baseline is already higher. I’ve already had the cancer and the treatment. So I know that I’m at an increased risk, but I don’t let it ruin my day, my week, my month anymore.
I just focus on what I can control and when it takes up too much of my head space, I know that I need to develop a strategy in the moment to not let it stay there. So as long as I do those things, I feel like I have more patience. I feel like I’m a, I feel like I’m a better firefighter. I feel like I’m a better paramedic, better educator, better husband.
And so right now, At age 37, I feel like there’s finally a system in place to not let these things completely own my life.
Stack: So what are you doing today? Are you still in therapy?
Marshall: Yeah, so it’s not as frequent as it was, but there’s check-in sessions. Where we’ll just say Hey, how have the last few weeks, last few months gone?
What’s good. What’s the area of struggle. What are the potential stressors in the short term and in the long term and putting things in perspective. And so we’re doing that. I’m what, haven’t always been the best about medication compliance. Sometimes it’s just being forgetful.
So I’ve made a habit to understand that’s a very important part of my day, just as important as that morning cup of coffee. And when I focus on me, and maintaining those sessions and not calling and canceling them, or one thing that gives me terrible anxiety is when my yearly physical comes, I can imagine, oh my God, it’s because all that information gets sent to GW university and they go through fine tooth comb, blood work, protein levels, and they take all this data, they trend it.
And I just, there are times where I’m like, they’re gonna find something this year. I’m getting closer to 40. And some of those thoughts will come up. It’s okay, this is it. This could potentially be it. So there’s always a sense of that. My, my life depends on that next medical exam.
And you know what? I’ve just embraced that’s a big ticket item for me. That’s a big stressor for me and it’s okay for it to be a stressor, but I have to find a more effective way to put borders around it. So it doesn’t completely consume the week leading into the. The days in which I’m undergoing the test and then the weeks after waiting for the results, waiting for the results.
And waiting for the phone and is every missed call. Is that the number? Is that right? What are they saying? Why didn’t they leave a voicemail? Does it mean something was bad? Didn’t they me to come in? So all these things now that it’s okay, Marshall, if you don’t take the steps to talk about it ahead of time, if you’re not compliant with your medication, that’s helping very effectively.
If you’re not doing the thing, if you’re not implementing the strategies, learned these yearly exams, these trips to GW, they’re gonna completely just ruin an entire week of your life. and nothing good ever comes from that. If I go into one of, one of these appointments and they say, Hey, we need to treat this.
We need we believe we caught it early. I view it as I hate undergoing these tests. I’d rather not do ’em where the GW is saying. I’ve told them that I hate coming here and they’re like, Hey, we’re not here to tell you’re gonna die. We’re here to catch it early. So that if something comes, we just manage it.
But it’s hard for me to view it that way.
Stack: so they’re reworking their, your view for you.
Marshall: They are.
Stack: So they’re, they are, they’re pulling some therapy on you right there.
Marshall: But it’s oh yeah, the medical anxiety, but it’s manageable now. I have a plan in place and I just, and I’ve said this a few times through here and I don’t want to keep repeating myself, but it’s important cuz it’s what if I didn’t play into that?
Stigma. What if I,
how much would my I wouldn’t have put my wife through the frustration and the tempers and those dust ups and blowups. How many of those could I have avoided how many times where I just lost it with the kids? How many of those could I have avoided? How many times have they seen me like that to where is it gonna stick with them?
Just like getting so angry and yelling and being short fused and just being so frustrated. Is that what, how much of that are they gonna remember? And thankfully, they’re very, and I feel like I was able to get on track and get the help and get things addressed before they get much older.
But you do wonder, man. I, it feels good to have a plan in place. I just wish maybe it was when I was 25 instead of 35, but you know what we are, we’re there now. And if me telling my story can, if there’s a young man, young woman in the department or any department, or anywhere that listens to this and is dealing some things now, and it is the deciding factor between saying, you know what, he’s right.
Maybe I should just go in and connect with somebody. And if that process happens earlier for somebody else, I feel like this is all worth it.
Stack: And that’s the purpose that gives everybody some purpose because to to, to get that word out and to encourage other people to take care of it before it becomes an issue.
That’s key. That’s obviously what we’re trying to do here. So I appreciate you doing that. And I have a couple of questions to end with though. Sure. Two things I ask everybody and I apologize, cuz I forgot to bring this up. You. We talked. An everyday carry. And I mean that, in the sense of obviously the name of the show is the things we all carry we carry a lot of stuff into a call, whether you’re a paramedic going in for a medical call, you’re a bucket firefighter going in for a fire there’s things.
We carry into a fire there tools. We carry to take care of ourselves in a call. But there’s those things that we call, we carry out as well. And the scars, the whatever you wanna call, ’em the traumas that we carry out. . Other than that, other than those things, what’s something you have on your person every day, carry that you feel
Marshall: naked without like a physical item.
Yeah. Or whatever. Let’s see. That’s actually a really good question. I gotta think about that
Stack: one for a second. all right. You think about that one and we’re gonna, I’m gonna hit you with another one. All right. All right. So you can multitask you’re an instructor. You can handle it. Yeah. What’s a book you want to suggest
Marshall: to people. A book I want to suggest to people is.
Let’s see, what’s over. Really.
I’m trying to think of, I’ve read so many things over the last few years.
So one, one thing for me that was important for me, and I know there’s gonna be people that listen managing the explosive child,
Stack: managing the explosive child. Yeah. Okay.
Marshall: And the re the key takeaway there being, whether you have a child or not, there’s so many basic communication principles. And I can look at it’s either managing the explosive child or it’s the explosive child, but.
when we were so stressed out in dealing with our son’s struggles. There’s so many basics of communication that when you read that book and how to talk to somebody in crisis, or somebody dealing with big emotions, there are takeaways from that book that I feel are universal across all spectrums of communication.
So when somebody is at wits end and you’re talking, and in this case, you’re dealing with children who have explosive personalities and struggle with big emotions. How in the moment, and in the minute, first of all, how can you prevent that? How can you make them feel supported in the moment and how can you talk to them in a way that gives them an out.
And so that they can get to the other side of their struggle with, without you exacerbating the issue and not intentionally, but when you read that, it’s this would work. And how I talk to my wife when she’s dealing with something stressful or dealing with somebody at work, there’s this very there’s communication principles.
And usually people that seek that kind of book out are at wit in and dealing with a child with difficult personality. But if you are interested just in human communication and effective communication and just leadership principles in general, there’s so many things in there. That kind of carry over that.
I think it would be a good read for anybody.
Stack: I just Googled it while you were talking. It is The Explosive Child, everybody asks, I ask the same questions. I’m gonna link it into show notes anyway. So yeah, they’ll have a, they’ll have a way to find it.
Marshall: And so then something that I carry with me that, I hate to give him credit , but Chuck DeBonis, as a gift he actually gave it’s a multi-use, it’s a pin light.
It’s a pin. It’s a something where you can get a measurement. And so one thing, one thing for me is I always go through, I always lose pin lights. I always am bad about something to write with. So for that, it’s just a little tool I keep in my picket. So if I need. If I need to assess a patient, if I need a little bit of light in a dark setting, if I need to measure something really briefly, then I’m able to do this with this little gift that he
Nice. All right. There you go. Perfect. And you had to give him a shout up.
Marshall: Oh yeah. I I always have to needle Chuck a little bit. All
Stack: right. I appreciate your time. I know you gotta get back and you gotta teach this afternoon, so I will let you go. And I, once again, I appreciate it. Thank you for being open.
Thank you for being honest and thanks for, a little bit of vulnerability today. So yeah.
Marshall: Thanks for having me. All right. Cool man.