Walking Through Fires

In April, I was working on the Sierra Madre fire. It was an early-season fire that threatened surrounding structures. As a fire captain I normally run inmate hand crews. This time I happened to be on an engine. While fighting this fire I started feeling sick with a cough that wouldn’t stop. We worked on controlling the fire for three or four days. When that was done I went directly to a twenty-four-hour clinic to hopefully get some antibiotics to make the cough go away. The doctor gave me a prescription. She also ordered a chest x-ray that would change the next fifteen months of my life.

My wife, Jill, reminded me that I had been coughing several months before with bronchitis and the cough never really left me. So, then, it was a done deal.

I had the chest x-ray and a few days later I am back at work. I never heard anything from the doctor about my x-ray and I was feeling better. So, like any other person I didn’t give it a lot of thought. Hey, no news is good news!

That morning, I took the crew on a hike and when I got back my wife called and said they found something in my lungs.  The doctor wanted me to go see a pulmonary specialist and have a CAT scan.  I told my boss what was going on.  I had to wait for relief before I could leave. I had some time to kill while I waited, so I called my good friend.  He had been my friend since third grade and is also my brother in-law.   I told him what was going on and I said, “I do not want to go through this crap again!”

Nine years ago I had a benign brain tumor the size of a tennis ball.  That happened right before my wedding. Not fun, but I thought, here we go again.  Instead of fighting fires, I began a fight for my life.  I made an appointment with my doctor who had scheduled a CAT scan that would give more details than the X-ray.  The doctor said the spot on my lung was serious and could be anything from pneumonia to the worst…cancer. These doctors don’t mess around! They don’t want to tell you anything that might give you false hope.  Thankfully, I had friends and family in my life that spoke words of hope and encouragement. One good friend said to me, “Jeff, God told me that everything is going to be O.K.”  And then he prayed for me.

The next few weeks took me through various tests, which included a lung biopsy.  This one scared me. I knew that to do the biopsy they would have to puncture my lung.  Immediately, I thought of all the complications that could happen! Being a fireman, I have seen people with punctured lungs, chest tubes and struggling to breathe.

It does NOT look fun. During the procedure I was praying and five separate times God said to me “Jeff, everything is going to be O.K.”

Contrary to what God told me the doctor put it to me bluntly, “I’m sorry Jeff, it does not look good. You have stage four lung cancer.”  He told me he had consulted with an oncologist and wanted me to see him ASAP.  My mind went racing a million miles an hour thinking of what was going to happen to my wife, my two boys and the rest of my life.  I felt horrible for my family. I felt I had let them down and would be putting them through all of this again. One thing I was confident about, I knew I would be going to Heaven! But, what to do until then?

Jill and I began to cry out for help.  That night our pastor, friends and family came to our house.  They laid hands on me and prayed for healing in my body.  The room was overwhelmed with emotions. Right then I made a decision to let go.  To really give this cancer to God and let him deal with it.  God is in control.  So I was off work until further notice. This was a new thing for me.  I loved being a firefighter but now that I have mandatory time off, I realized that I had put work first.  I took this time as a free pass to enjoy my family and friends and live every moment of life to the fullest.  Over the next couple of months I received a lot of chemo and a lot of prayer.  So many friends prayed and even shaved their heads in support.  Even after all the chemo I never lost any hair. We all enjoyed God’s sense of humor!

Those good friends laid their hands on me and we prayed that God would take all my burdens. From that moment on, for the most part, I was at a peace.  Any time and any place I could get prayer, I would.

Twelve weeks of chemo and all the waiting aside, I went in for my first pet scan. I was not scared.  I had ambitions of being totally healed. After the scan, both techs came in and stated that they did not see any obvious signs of any tumors or cancer. They, of course, put out the disclaimer that they are just techs and the radiologist can see a whole lot more in these pictures.  I was excited to hear that!  These guys had remembered me from my earlier pet scans and thought that I had the most amount of cancer they had ever seen in a picture!  Now what they were looking for did not exist.  I gave God the glory!

I had my follow-up appointment with my oncologist.   He said we had really good results from the chemo and that 98% of the cancer was gone! I said Amen!  My doctor’s plan was to go for 100% cancer free.  He decided to continue with chemo and radiation.  I was still relying on God.  I held onto one scripture throughout this struggle, “Because He loves me says the Lord, I will rescue him.  I will protect him.  For he acknowledges My Name.  He will call upon Me and I will answer him.  I will be with him in trouble.  I will deliver him and honor him with long life.  I will satisfy him and show him My salvation. Psalm 91: 14-16.

This struggle with cancer had lasted almost a year.  I do love God and he has rescued me.  He has delivered me.   All confirmed when I heard my doctor declare, “Jeff, there is NO cancer!”  Again, I give ALL the Glory to God! He is so awesome! I now live cancer free.  I do not know why God healed me specifically.  I met two other guys who were diagnosed around the same time as me, who had families with children and they both passed away. One of them was a Christian brother. I guess if God wants me to know, I will find out in heaven someday.

I believe God wants to use me and I wait patiently so see what He has in store for me. For now I share my story whenever possible and tell people to have hope and to pray.  Pray, pray, pray like they never have before and receive prayer any time they can.

That kind of sums it all.  I’m back working as a Fire Captain and doing the same thing any other man would if he had seen his life flash before him.  I have a new creed; God first, family second and then work. I know not to make work my idol, anymore.  I have been a Christian a long time. As God walks along side me, these fires refine me.

Jeff shares his testimony on page 95 in TESTIFY the book!

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