Local first responders don pink for breast cancer awareness


Luke Hackman has no issue with wearing his navy blue Seymour Fire Department T-shirt with a pink logo this month.

It gives him pride and honor to bring awareness to breast cancer, which his mother, Laura Hackman, and sister, Mandy Wessel, both have battled.

Firefighters have worn the shirts in October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in previous years, but Fire Chief Brad Lucas decided it was time to buy new ones this year.

As the firefighters purchased them, they generously gave extra money so Seymour Firefighters Union Local 577 could donate a few hundred dollars to a local breast cancer charity.

“We’ve got 40-plus guys at the fire department. They come together and in many ways have all been affected by cancer, whether it’s breast cancer or other cancers, in some sort of way,” Luke said.

“We all have the same feeling and share the same type of stories on how it has affected close family members just like it has me,” he said. “I’m glad Chief Lucas gave us the opportunity to get these shirts and allow us to wear them every day we’re on shift just to show support for the ones that have had to fight this disease.”

When he wears the shirt, Luke thinks about what his mom and sister went through. He also sees fellow firefighters wearing them and thinks about what they went through with their family members’ battles.

“When we’re out in public, you look around and you think of other people, you never know what other people have gone through,” Luke said. “I am just honored to be able to do this and show support for not only my mom and my sister but everybody else just to know that we’re there for them as a fire department and we’re always thinking about people affected by this and their families.”

Upon receiving the news of his family members’ diagnoses, Luke said it was definitely scary not knowing what the future held for them.

His mother had to have a full mastectomy but didn’t have to go through cancer treatments.

“Since then, everything with her has been good. She hasn’t had any issues. She’s healthy and all that,” Luke said.

His sister was diagnosed with Stage 3 invasive breast cancer in 2013 that spread to her lymph nodes. She went through a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation.

Then in 2015, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, which she said had zero connection with her breast cancer. Again, she had to have chemotherapy and radiation.

“As of today, I am cancer-free and I am living life to the fullest and am thankful for each healthy day God chooses to give me,” Wessel said.

“I have follow-up appointments every six months to a year now, and so far, things are going great,” she said. “I feel awesome and try every day to not live in fear but instead live my life as if cancer will never touch me again. I have a saying that I came across during my treatments and it helps keep me going: Get busy living. Simple and to the point, but so true.”

Seeing her brother and the other firefighters wear the special shirts this month means a lot to Wessel.

“My brother, Luke, is one of the most thoughtful guys I know,” she said. “Luke and the firemen wearing pink touched my heart and reminded me how many people care about the women who have faced this awful disease. Firemen are looked up to in our community, so they are perfect to help raise awareness.”

She said awareness is key.

“Early detection is so important, and breast cancer does not discriminate against age, health or sex for that matter,” she said. “My advice for all women is to be vigilant when it comes to early detection and knowing their bodies. If you notice a change or feel something is wrong, get checked immediately.”

Pictures of Luke, Lucas and Battalion Chief John Kirby have appeared on the fire department’s Facebook page this month, giving them an opportunity to pay tribute to a loved one.

Lucas chose his stepmother, Reva Lucas, who battled through multiple bouts of breast cancer.

“She’s doing really well now,” Brad said of his mother, who lives in Cortland.

“It’s just hard on the entire family because you see someone suffering,” he said of her cancer diagnoses. “They are suffering and you want to make them feel better, but you can’t.”

While firefighters have worn the pink logo shirts before, Brad said this is the first time they have promoted it on Facebook and raised money for a local cause.

“I thought we could kick it up a notch this year,” he said. “It hits home to a lot of guys, and I think we have a good platform to do that. We have a lot of followers on Facebook, so I thought that would just be a good platform to get our message out to the community.”

Kirby paid tribute to his mother, Emily Kirby, who died in October 2006.

Five years prior, she had a lump removed from her breast. Then in the fall of 2005, cancer was found again.

“She had an incident where she was having trouble breathing, and then they did surgery on her lung and then they found she had a tumor, a growth inside her chest cavity. The breast cancer had spread,” John said. “She fought hard for a year going through the chemo and different things.”

When Emily learned of her diagnosis, John had returned home after a yearlong deployment with the Indiana National Guard in Afghanistan. Shortly after, he and his wife became pregnant with their second child.

The day before his daughter was born, John’s mother went into hospice care.

“The doctor wanted the baby delivered for medical reasons,” John said. “The hospice center told us that Mom was probably going to die that night before the delivery, and me and my dad stayed there and she lived through the night.”

It was Emily’s goal to live to see her granddaughter, Elizabeth, born. John and his father were there for Elizabeth’s birth, and then his dad returned to the hospice center.

“The hospice center kept saying that when people die slowly, the last sense to go is their hearing, and so they said to be sure to talk to (Emily),” John said. “When Dad got back from the hospital to see Elizabeth born, he told mom it was OK to go, and two hours later, my mom died.”

The family experienced a range of emotions.

“It was a really tough time,” John said. “That was a tough and good year at the same time. I was pretty proud of (Emily’s) willpower and tenacity to fight. I’ll never forget it.”

Like his fellow firefighters, John thinks of his loved one who bravely battled cancer when wearing his shirt.

“I know it’s a big subject for a lot of families, and I know just talking to different guys, everybody knows somebody that has been affected by it, so it’s not just me, it’s everybody,” he said.

EMS wearing pink, too

Jackson County Emergency Medical Services personnel are donning pink on their shirts, too.

Emergency Medical Technician Shane Collier spearheaded the effort again this year.

He said between donations made by staff members and the shirt vendor, Cottontwine Design, EMS will make a $100 donation to the Schneck Foundation.

Collier said he was inspired to continue the tradition in honor of his Aunt Debbie, who died in 2008 after a 12-year battle with breast cancer.

“She always loved wearing pink during the month of October to raise awareness,” he said. “I was actually still in high school when she passed away. She is the reason I became an EMT, so for me to be able to have shirts designed to raise awareness to breast cancer has always been my way of honoring my Aunt Debbie, who I miss dearly.”

He said it’s important for EMS to bring awareness to breast cancer because as first responders and health care workers, they know early detection can save lives.

“As EMTs and paramedics, our job is to save lives,” Collier said. “If by wearing pink during the month of October we can encourage men and women to pay attention to the signs and symptoms, I believe we are doing our part to educate the public and to help save lives through early detection and screening.”

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