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Comment: Cells’ silent stalker

November 15, 2019
By Laura Aiken

Cancer is a terrifying prospect beyond its lethality — its unpredictable path and penchant for wreaking havoc on our cells quietly before it spreads itself at an often too late to abate rate, make it a particularly frightening diagnosis. Cancer is so six degrees of separation that we can all tell a story of someone whose cancer was given a great prognosis and they died. We can also all tell a story of someone whose cancer outlook was given the direst of straits and they lived. Some of you are cancer survivors.

Cancer is a high-profile disease inflicting and killing firefighters at a higher rate than the general public. In fact, cancer is now the No. 1 killer of Canadian firefighters, reported a recent study by the University of the Fraser Valley.

Information that leads to preventative care and optimal cancer screening for firefighters will save lives. Our December edition introduces a three-part series on firefighter cancer written by Dr. Kenneth Kunz, a Canadian oncologist and researcher who has taken a passionate interest in cancer care for firefighters. Dr. Kunz, who wrote the series with the support of the Fire Chiefs’ Association of British Columbia, speaks widely on the subject. You can find a talk he delivered to Comox Fire Rescue called “Job-Related Cancers in Firefighters” online. He has been researching cancer since 1979, and in his Comox session he points out that trillions have been spent trying to end cancer, but cancer isn’t ever going to go away. It’s a natural part of being human. This fact doesn’t mean we can’t reduce the number of cases.

In Part 1, Dr. Kunz shares the current statistical picture before taking readers on a fascinating journey into the lives of ancient fire brigades. In Part 2, Dr. Kunz narrates on firefighter cancer in these ancient times and what parallels can be drawn. The series will wrap up with what steps can be taken to mitigate cancer diagnosis and mortality in firefighters, alongside his physician’s perspective and story of his commitment to researching and educating on the cancer risks firefighters face.

On a bright note, you are lucky to be in the fire service now instead of ancient Rome. We have modern medicine and many brilliant minds dedicated to cancer research. The growth in knowledge will continue to give more of us longer and healthier lives (so long as we heed the advice to take care of ourselves as well).

I hope you find this series written by Dr. Kunz as fascinating as I did. I have a much better understanding of cancer than I did before thanks to his eloquent delivery. The team at Fire Fighting in Canada wishes you a safe, joyful and peaceful holidays. We look forward to serving our readership in the New Year.


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