By Fire Chief Sam DiGiovanna
I always liked to say I was Andy’s training captain, because as young boys we would set fires in my parents’ backyard and play “firefighter.” Andy was the smart one. I provided the training center (my parents’ backyard), which meant I was stuck with the evidence while Andy rode his bike home, another successful “training” session complete.
Though my dad wasn’t in the fire service, I swear he was a fire investigator in a past life. Andy and I always took pains to cover our tracks from the fires we set, but my dad managed to find the burn patterns, the point of origin and the Ohio blue tips used for ignition along with burned wood, debris and weeds.
I’d get the belt, and Andy, well, he was always “such a good boy.”
We joined the Los Angeles County Fire Department Explorers at an early age. We got hired pretty much right out of high school and began our fire service careers, never looking back. Proud to be firefighters! Unfortunately, all the training and years on the job can’t stop the risks associated with being a firefighter. In fact, it increases our risk of heart attacks, cancer, diseases and injuries. Andy succumbed to colorectal cancer on Jan. 23, 2012, at just 52 years old. It was a tough battle; anyone who knew Andy knew he was tough, but not tough enough to win this fight.
His death was ruled a line-of-duty death, caused by job-related colorectal cancer. Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third-most common cancer diagnosed in men and women in the United States. Of cancers that kill both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second-leading killer.
Colorectal cancer affects people in all racial and ethnic groups. It’s most often found in people age 50 and older, but recent research suggests that risk may be shifting. A report published Feb. 28, 2017, found that someone born in 1990 would have twice the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer at the same age had they been born in 1950 (https://www.cnn.com/2017/02/28/health/colon-cancer-rectal-cancer-risk-young-people-study/index.html).
So, the risk appears to be increasing. I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s a clarion call to take action:
- If you’re over 50, get a regular colonoscopy or other screening test your doctor recommends.
- No matter your age, watch for symptoms: blood in or on your stool, stomach pain or cramps that don’t go away and/or unexplained weight loss.
- Maintain a healthy weight, or try to lose weight if you’re obese or overweight.
- Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in animal fat.
March is the month dedicated to raising awareness about colorectal cancer. Perhaps you can share this with members in your family, work or organization to spread the word — and maybe save the life of someone like Andy.