Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Today I had a PET scan in a mobile unit, a massive unit that rolled in on the frame of an eighteen-wheeler.

But that is not what I want to talk about, what I want to talk about is the conversation I had while waiting for my turn in the scanner. I was seated in a little alcove waiting for my body to fully take in the radioactive marker they had injected me with. I had been talking with the technologists for about half an hour when I hear the man say "And how are you doing Mr. Sanders?"

From next to me, on the other side of a partition, I heard a voice, a slightly raspy, slightly weathered voice reply back, "Oh, I'm doing just fine."

Feeling a little guilty for talking all that time and more or less ignoring someone else, I seized on the information. "Sander's is it?" I said jovially.

"It is." The man replied.

"And how are you today?"

"Oh, I'm doing just fine." He said.

And so the conversation got started. You see, it seems that Mr Sanders was born in California, grew up there, and worked for the CDF back in the 60s and 70s as a wildland's firefighter.

I know the skill set it takes to do that job, and I know that the men back then had it even harder, and many times faced even uglier challenges than the crack, highly trained, well equipped teams we have today. These were men who were a breed apart. As a former firefighter, this was very much like sitting next to someone who had been at D-Day, or Inchon.

it turns out that he was a nozzlemen (The CDF operate an impressive fleet of pumpers and tankers to support their front line hot shot crews), and then a driver and then a captain, not a small accomplishment.

He moved to Alaska in the 70s, joined the Fairbanks Fire Department there, and was a municipal firefighter and EMT for years.

I don't know when he moved to Oklahoma, but I do know that he was diagnosed with cancer some time back, they did surgery to remove the tumor, and then chemo to hold the condition at bay. Despite all that, it came back, and evidently came back strong, because he said the relapse was a little harder than they were expecting.

On top of that, his wife had just passed away two months ago.

But you see, that's the whole point of the story. he wasn't there at the PET scan to chart his treatment or evaluate a tumor. He was there as a one-last-stop followup after his last round of chemotherapy a few weeks before.

This is a man who has lived the life of a hero. He's worked hard, he's lived a long and prosperous life, and he's survived not one, but two bouts of cancer. If anyone has earned the right to a hero's retirement of lazy days and cold drinks, this man had. When I saw him, his face had the lines and weathering that only age can bring, and he had a lot of it.

But he wasn't done yet.

You see, in three days, he's moving back to Alaska so he can move in with his daughter. She's a single mother, and he want's to go and help raise his grandchild. He said the trip up there will take him nine days.

I've been told that my attitude about all of this is, or might be an inspiration to others. I don't know, I feel like agreeing with that outright makes me sound conceited.

But you want to know what inspires me?

Heroes inspire me. And where I come from, heroes don't have utility belts or capes. They're people who press on, who accomplish, who live, who love, who learn, who adapt... and most of all, they never quit, because its in their makeup to do these things. They do them because that is what they do.

Two careers as a firefighter, a father, a husband and a cancer survivor twice over, and no sooner does he have it beat than he's back into the fray, helping to raise his grandchild.

I sat next to a hero today. A hero who survived cancer. He's not a hero because he survived cancer, but I'm willing to bet that he beat cancer for a lot of the same reasons that he was already a hero.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this! I agree with Winston Churchill when he said that heroes are ordinary men in extraordinary situations. This story proves it's true! There are heroes all around us that are yet unknown. Pretty awesome that you got to meet one. :)