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Jacksonville firefighter battles flames and cancer

5:46 PM, Oct 23, 2013   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The driver's seat of a fire truck is like home to Sheryl Rodgers.

"This is my seat," she said Wednesday morning while looking at a pink fire truck parked outside fire station #11 on Talleyrand Ave., where she works.

The truck, which is privately owned, was brought in to celebrate a special occasion.

October is known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department supports heavily. Firefighters have been on the job all month wearing pink shirts under their gear. Many others are wearing pink bracelets.

But Wednesday's event had a deeper meaning because Rodgers is currently battling breast cancer.

"The statistics are one in four firefighters will develop cancer," she said.

Rodgers sadly became one of those statistics in March of this year when she found a lump on her right breast. It happened just as she was preparing to leave on her honeymoon.

"It was concerning because it seemed to just pop up out of nowhere all of a sudden. I never noticed it before," she said.
Rodgers admits she did not check her breasts on a regular basis, but that she started getting mammograms early at age 35.

Then, two days after she turned 38 in April, doctors confirmed she had triple negative breast cancer.

"It wasn't too devastating. I kind of knew to be honest when I felt the lump originally I just had a feeling. The good news is triple negative cancer reacts best to chemotherapy," she explained.

As positive as she has tried to be, her husband Ken isn't always so strong.

"It's been very difficult for me to watch somebody I love very dearly have to battle through something so insidious, and for me to be helpless. It's hard," he admitted.

But the newlyweds have the full support of their firefighter family.
At station #11, the pink truck isn't the only symbol of their love for Rodgers.

Firefighters on Wednesday also surprised her with pink roses as she prepares for a critical stage in her diagnosis.

"I've managed to be very strong through this. I have a strong faith in God. I've had a strong family support base," she said.

Rodgers has gone through 20 weeks of chemotherapy, but now must have surgery to hopefully remove what's left of her tumor.
So far, she believes all indications are surgeons won't find much left.

She said the chemo has reduced the size of the tumor by at least a fourth of what it used to be.

After her surgery, she said she is leaning toward having both of her breasts removed as a preventative measure.

"I don't know one day down the road that my daughter will get this because now her mom's had it," she said.

All the while, she continues to go to work, but admits there are tough days. "I went through a second round of chemo, and that knocked me down pretty good," she said.

The difference now seems to be that her job has taken on the role of advocate.

She and her husband want to share her story so others know the importance of getting checked.

"I can tell you from personal experience that every woman, every husband needs to make sure their wives are doing that no matter what age," her husband said.

"It can be fought. It can be won. You can be a survivor," she said.


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