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Fire chief with terminal cancer is still fighting to save lives

AURORA, Colo. -- A Denver-area cancer patient is not letting his fatal diagnosis go to waste. He is using the time he has left to fight the disease, live his best life and to save others.

“The cancer I have is adenoid cystic carcinoma,” Troy Jackson told FOX31.

He was diagnosed in 2013 with the extremely rare disease. The first tumor was found in his trachea.

He was in remission for about two years before the cancer came back very aggressively.

Eventually, Jackson will die from his cancer. But, he isn’t finished fighting.

"I spent seven to nine doctor visits a week, chemo, radiation,” he said. “I’ve had three inches of my trachea taken out. I’ve had a thoracotomy. I’ve had more CAT scans and biopsies than I can count.”

And now he goes for a biopsy every three weeks as part of a clinical trial.

“With image guidance we’re going to go in with a biopsy needle and take up to four core samples,” Jackson's surgeon told him during a recent visit.

The long days spent in a hospital bed being poked and prodded have helped him live an extra five years already.

He has cherished the time with his wife and two children. And, there is an added bonus.

“The stuff that they’re doing on me and the clinical trials could help somebody else later,” he said.

It is a new routine he’s now stuck with because of an old habit.

“They feel that there is a direct link to what we do in the job,” Jackson said.

Jackson is the operations chief at South Metro Fire Rescue. He has spent 28 years running into burning buildings.

“Really what we were worried about was building collapses, roofs coming down on us,” he said. “Nobody thought about cancer.”

Cancer is the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths among those in the fire service, largely because of the toxic soot that gets caked on their skin and inhaled during fires.

“Today’s homes are manufactured lumber that’s held together with glues and resins and when you heat that they release toxic chemicals,” Jackson said.

Those carcinogen chemicals are absorbed into the skin over time.

“For my cancer sites, my first one was in my neck. My second one was right here,” Jackson said while motioning to his chest. “And all the rest are right here along this side. Right where my radio is all the time for 15, 20 years.”

He is now dedicated to preventing the younger firefighters on his team from getting cancer.

South Metro is changing its policy to require all fire crews to treat every fire as a hazmat situation.

It will bag up gear to be professionally cleaned and each person involved in fighting the fire will need to decontaminate themselves with shampoo, soap and specialized fire wipes.

The goal is to eliminate all of the toxic soot from returning to the firehouse.

“This job is hard enough as it is. We need to do everything we can to send our people home safe,” Jackson said.

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