Albemarle County firefighter back on the job after beating stage 3 kidney cancer

Updated: Jun. 11, 2021 at 7:01 PM EDT
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ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - An Albemarle County firefighter is back on the job after beating stage 3 kidney cancer.

Sean Ryan, a 37-year-old firefighter, says he was stunned when a routine scan found a large tumor on his kidney. He went through surgery and fought hard through recovery to make it to survival day, where he trains new recruits what it takes to fight fires.

“I can tell you that survival day has taken on a whole new meaning for me,” Ryan said. “It has been a fight to get back here for this day.”

Ryan is no stranger to courage. After all, he runs into burning buildings for work.

“It’s the best job in the world,” Ryan said.

But when a scan revealed he had stage three kidney cancer, he knew he would have a different type of battle ahead.

“I was really stunned, really stunned,” he said.

Ryan immediately got going with treatment. “Within about a month of finding out that I had cancer, I was on the surgery table,” he said. “I think it was within about nine days that I was able to go and see the recruits first experience with live fire training.”

Ryan says, even though the cancer was likely tied to the job, he was eager to get back as soon as possible.

“I don’t think anyone was surprised that I got back when I did. I think they all know how stubborn and hard-headed I am and that I was gonna come back to the recruits,” he said. “I think it took everybody by surprise as I told them the diagnosis, but the prognosis and me being me, I think it got us back together very quickly.”

For firefighters like Ryan, cancer is a hidden risk that makes the job even more dangerous than it looks.

“The rates of cancer in the fire service are skyrocketing over the past 10 years, but they’re also vastly under reported still,” Battalion Chief Meade Whitaker said.

While he is grateful to be cancer-free and reunited with his fire family, Ryan is especially thankful for the scan that saved his life.

“This was a new initiative that the county put in, and if it hadn’t been for this scan, I had multiple doctors telling me that within 18 months I would have had renal failure,” Ryan said.

Ryan is filled with gratitude for the support from his fellow firefighters, who he considers family.

“It was just driven home the family aspect of the fire service that I never went without,” Ryan said. “I never was alone, everybody was there for me, no matter what, or when.”

Ryan is now back to work full time, training up new recruits so they have what it takes to face any challenges that may come their way.

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