Monday, February 10, 2003

Firefighters with cancer inspire colleagues

By Rob Phillips
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WEST CHESTER TWP. - In a profession dedicated to helping others, it's sometimes hard to be on the receiving side.

But two West Chester firefighters who conquered cancer received community support while inspiring their colleagues.

In September 2002, Dave Leitch, 27, a West Chester firefighter and paramedic, returned to his full-time rotation after a yearlong bout with cancer - the station's second cancer survivor in almost 2 years.

In December 2001 he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of Hodgkin's disease that affects the lymph nodes.

Leitch went through 12 chemotherapy treatments and four surgeries.

But it didn't extinguish his positive attitude around the fire station.

"His spirits always seemed to remain high," said Lt. Rick Prinz.

"He helped to inspire the rest of the troops."

Leitch began working as a fire investigator from January to September 2002.

Although the department defines the shift as the "light load," Leitch continued to work about 40 hours a week throughout his treatment.

"I would come home from work every day and just crash," Leitch said.

"I think that going to work and getting everyone's support actually helped out with getting through the cancer."

Said Prinz: "We think we have it bad and then we look at what this guy is going through.

"It was a pretty inspiring experience for all."

Another West Chester firefighter, Mike Nowicki, was diagnosed with testicular cancer in October 2000, just more than a year after reaching his long-time goal to become a firefighter.

He began working part-time in 1999 at the fire department when he wasn't filling his daytime role as a financial analyst.

Nowicki, 37, underwent 2 weeks of radiation treatment in December 2000. His body was able to fight off the cancer. He returned to fighting fires in January 2001.

Both men were recognized recently at the West Chester Fire Department Awards and Recognition Banquet.

But Leitch and Nowicki agree the fire department could not be thanked enough for their support.

"I never would have thought there would be so much support from everybody: family, friends, neighbors, church and the fire department," Nowicki said.

"I had only been there for a year and they told me they just wanted me to recover and when I'm ready to come back just let them know."

Said Leitch: "You can't describe how it feels when people come together for you like that.

"My wife and I were taken aback by it."

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