The Long and Winding Road: A Firefighter’s Battle with Cancer

By:  Frank Vento with Robert AvsecCancer Global Killer

I was having a good career at my department.  I put in a great deal of time working on projects and studying hard for that lieutenant promotion that I really wanted.

Well, I got it!  Now I am some months away from retirement eligibility and looking to see what’s out in the world to do next.  But life has its moments.

I began noticing that I had large lump in my neck, and while I wasn’t getting sick, it won’t go away.  I’d noticed it about a week earlier, and now I’m going in for a check.

Cancer Mutation chartNo one’s really worried at this time, but I want to know what this is and why it doesn’t go away.  The doctor says all she can do at this point is draw blood and run the labs.  No problem.   As luck would have it, my wife’s boss is a surgeon and he’s always interested in our well-being.  He asks to see me.

My labs came back “normal”, but my wife’s boss says he would like to run a CT scan to see if anything comes back.  I don’t think he is really concerned at what he sees in the labs, but I know he is just trying his best to help out and put me and my wife at ease.

However, this all gets me thinking about another medical problem that this “healthy guy”, me, had a few years back.  I got to work one morning on a swap shift, wasn’t feeling 100 percent myself, but I figured if I got to the station and got a coffee and a bowl of cereal I would get the needed fuel to get going.

I sat down next to one of the medics and asked him if during his morning check of the ECG monitor could he wire me up and “take a look.”  I just wanted to have some piece of mind, since I still wasn’t feeling all that well.

Trigeminal PVCSo 20 minutes later I’m being prepped at the station for a ride to the ER. The medics all came in to look at my ECG, which is showing 8-10 PVC’s (Premature Ventricular Contractions) a minute. The District Chief is standing across the room, arms crossed with his chin on one hand and shaking his head. He comes over to me and says, “Frank, you can’t be on-duty with this, you will need to go get checked out.”

After a weekend hospital stay and two stress tests the department physician did not want to clear me.  Following several visits to the cardiologist we find out I need surgery.

So there I am, three weeks after the station episode, having open heart surgery at a children’s Human Hearthospital for a birth defect in my heart.  Had it all my life and never knew it!  But I didn’t like what I was feeling so I had to find out why.

When it came to this episode with my heart, I didn’t have any stereotypical male attitude that “this was nothing and it will go away.”  We’ve all heard it time and time again at every continuing education medical class regarding heart problems.  This new lump in my neck was going to get checked out the same way.

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So the CT scan came back and it was questionable and we wind up making an appointment with an ENT (Ear, nose, and throat) specialist for the next day or two.  Initially, the ENT office said they had an appointment available in six weeks.  However, my darling wife said, “No”, and she does her “little thing” that she does with the scheduler lady.  She finally has to “drop” her boss’s name and state that Doc wanted me seen in the next day or two.  We got the appointment.

So the day before this past Thanksgiving I met with the ENT who scoped my nose, and didn’t see anything that concerned him, but he recommended doing the biopsy to be sure.  As soon as he started the biopsy he sighed and stated that some white puss came out around the needle, and that this was most likely an infection.  A good sign or so I thought…

To be continued…

About the Author

Frank Vento is a Lieutenant with the City of Seminole (FL) Fire Rescue where he’s currently assigned to the Truck Company at Station 29.  Lieutenant Vento has been a firefighter since 1989.  He also served his country in the U.S. Army and the Florida Air National Guard.

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served for 26 years with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire & EMS Department.  Contact him at [email protected]

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, [email protected].