Cancer Supplement: Survivor Story: Captain Roderick Thompson

Roderick Thompson is a 33-year veteran of the fire service, currently serving as a captain with the Scottsdale, AZ, Fire Department. In December 2016, doctors discovered a mass on his kidney, which was likely cancerous. After surgery in February 2017, pathology reports confirmed that Thompson had renal cell carcinoma. The surgeon reported that they were able to remove all the cancer, making Thompson both a cancer patient and survivor in the same day. Thompson returned to full duty in mid-April 2017.

How Has Cancer Affected Your Life?

Cancer has affected me quite tremendously. It was something that was totally unexpected—it really caught me and those around me off guard—but it’s given me the opportunity to really reflect to find a better meaning and to help me redirect myself and to realize that there’s a bigger cause out there that I can hopefully impact. There’s a lot of work being done to help reduce cancer in the fire service. 

What Have You Learned So Far Through Your Experience with Cancer?

Nobody’s alone. There’s a tremendous support network out there for folks in the fire service who have cancer. Just about everyone in the fire service, if they don’t have cancer, they know of somebody who has cancer, so it really impacts the entire workforce. Being able to connect with other people is really critical and to realize that there are educational opportunities out there. The most comforting part of my journey has been knowing that I am not alone in this. The support that I’ve had, both internally and externally, has been absolutely tremendous. 

What Has Been the Driving Force in You to Battle and Win Over Cancer?

The driving force in me is that’s just how I’m wired. As most folks in the fire service, we’re high-speed, low-drag people. We’re competitors, and losing is not an option. Whether my future purpose is to do more work on the fire truck or to devote more energy into helping others who have cancer, that’s what we’re here for is to help people.

How Have You Used What’s Happened to You to Help Others?

Through conversation and support. Just being able to reach out, pretty much from a walking-in-their-shoes kind of perspective. Each individual who goes through their journey—it’s an individual deal for them, but it’s nice to be able to connect with somebody else who can at least say, “Yes, I’ve been through at least part of that, so I can help you navigate through some of it.”

What Life Changes Have You Made as a Result of Your Experience with Cancer?

Just being more aware of my surroundings. Priority changes. Stuff that used to not be so important is hugely important now, and the opposite—stuff that I thought was really, really important, you realize it’s not. There’s nothing more important and precious than life.  

What Is Your Call to Action Going Forward?

To educate everybody out there that this deal about cancer in the fire service is nothing to be whispered about; it’s something to stand on top of the mountain and really yell. It’s just about an epidemic. It’s impacting everybody, and we have to do something—everything that we can—to prevent it from impacting the next generation of firefighters. 

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