Welcome to episode 61of The Things We All Carry. Few words can strike fear, like the word cancer. The adage is that it will touch everyone’s life at some point. That’s never been truer for me. As I sit here writing today, I have my own mother foremost in my mind. She’s put up a Valiant and brave fight over the last few years after being diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. Her spirits never seemed to break over that time and that holds true today while she’s home in hospice care. My mind also turns to a friend, really a brother, as he and his family turn their energy and focus to this battle as well.
Unfortunately as firefighters, we are much more susceptible to this insidious disease than the rest of the population. For many years, we’ve all heard this dismissal of it’s part of the job or something to that effect. We face numerous carcinogens on a daily basis from diesel exhaust to poor sleep to the byproducts of house fires.
The last thing we need is another risk added to that list. Yet in a cruel twist of fate. We have just that and it comes in the very gear meant to protect us. Our turnout gear’s festering with and continually shedding what are commonly called forever chemicals or classified as PFAS. They are known carcinogens, with their identified quote unquote safe levels.
Our gear greatly exceeds any so-called acceptable levels. Every time we Don our gear we put ourselves at greater risk for the fight of our lives. Diane Cotter is a patron Saint. She met our industry head on with dogged determination after her husband, a 28 year vet of the Worcester fire department was diagnosed with cancer. Her journey was one of discovery, both as a person and an activist. An unassuming wife and mom, who at one point refuse to have more than 99 Facebook friends became the face and voice of a fierce battle for what amounted to the soul of the fire service. She took up the mantle and the burden of advocacy at the time when the old guard had selfish reasons to quiet and discredit her. Much to our benefit she never quit and didn’t back down despite their efforts. Take a listen, as Diane tells her story from the personal side of the battle. Listen as she speaks of the toll it took on her and how she came out the other side.
Then find a way to thank and applaud her for everything she’s accomplished for all of us in a fire service. It turns out that we as firefighters really do need heroes. And Diane Cotter is just that our superhero.