By Allan Johnson
I joined the Mudgeeraba Rural fire service in 2000 and the thought of any firefighters getting cancer from fighting fires never entered my mind.
In March 2015 during a routine blood donation, I was told my haemoglobin levels were very high and that I should see my GP. After my GP completed several tests it was diagnosed that I had kidney cancer.
This came as a complete shock and I was overwhelmed with this news as I had always worked in clean environments and tried to keep fit. It was then that my GP made an appointment for me to see a urologist. After scans he confirmed a tumour on my right kidney. Within a week of diagnosis I was in hospital having my right kidney removed. After the kidney was removed pathology confirmed it was a stage four tumour.
After three months I had further scans and it showed a small spot in both my right and left lungs. As they were too small at the time, operating was not possible, and I would have to wait a further three months and then they could be removed.
At a meeting at my local brigade a member bought to my attention the relationship between firefighting and cancer.
I contacted the Firefighters Cancer Foundation Australia (FCFA) in QLD and after speaking with them I was encouraged to consider taking it further and to make a claim for Workers’ Compensation. Steve from the FCFA drove to my house and sat down with my wife and I discussed what to do next. I never thought that as a volunteer that I was entitled to compensation and that Workers compensation would only be for permanents.
With help from the FCFA I made the claim and I waited and I waited. I was warned that these types of claims can take a long time to determine and that I should just keep living - easy to say, harder to do.
My case went to WorkCover and was denied, which all along I was mindful of but I was reassured when we decided to appeal and my claim then went to the Medical Assessment Tribunal and the FCFA Put me touch with Firefighter Cancer Compensation Experts, James Law. They ramped up my case.
The result: my kidney cancer was determined to be caused by my occupation as a firefighter, being a significant contributing factor to my disease and the claim accepted.
The process after first being diagnosed to the final outcome was lengthy and at times I wanted to give up, it was depressing and a mentally tiring process but with the phone calls and emails that I received from Steve (FCFA) and the continued support from family and friends I’m managing to keep going.
At present I’m still fighting cancer, as small lesions have returned to both lungs. I’m currently undergoing a trial drug program of immune therapy and staying positive. I bicycle and swim every day and I plan to be around for a while.
I would like fellow firefighters to keep safe and remember cancer doesn’t care who you are and firefighters are more susceptible to certain types of cancer. I cannot thank Steve from FCFA and his team enough and if you know anyone that may need assistance or advice or support act now, the foundation are there to help.