July 1, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Firefighters support one of their own battling cancer

Kathy Payne was surprised when she was diagnosed with breast cancer last month. Payne, 54, gets annual mammograms and has been getting checked since she was 35. When she noticed something was a little abnormal, she called her doctor immediately.

“He got me in for a mammogram literally the next day,” she said. She then had an ultrasound and a biopsy and finally a diagnosis.

Members of the Brunswick Fire Department are donning pink shirts throughout October to raise awareness for breast cancer and in support of retired Brunswick firefighter Kathy Payne, who starts chemotherapy in November. (COURTESY PHOTO)

The news was encouraging.

“It’s a hormone-driven cancer and it has a high cure rate,” she said. Treatment began immediately.

On Sept. 17, she had a lumpectomy. Next month, she’s slated to start her chemotherapy followed by radiation treatments.

“It’s a relief to know that it’s gone,” she said. “The anticipation of chemotherapy is not exciting, but at the end of 18 weeks I’ll know it’s better.”

Throughout all of the doctor’s appointments and waiting for news, she has had the support of the Brunswick Fire Department where she worked for 11 years.

Payne calls her tenure as a firefighter and paramedic “the best 11 years of my life.”

Everyone on the Brunswick Fire Department is donning pink shirts in October in support of breast cancer awareness month.

While the goal has been something embraced by the International Association of Firefighters for a long time, the local firefighters said they especially were touched this year by the news that the disease had touched one of their own.

“When we found Kathy was battling the disease, we thought this would be a good way to show our support,” said Josh Erskine, president of the Brunswick Professional Firefighters Local 3568.

Erskine said the movement to support Payne and raise awareness has spread to more than just the Fire Department. City officials in other departments have asked for shirts and have worn them in a show of support.

The firefighters hope to do it again next year.

“This year the goal is just awareness, but next year, the goal will include a fundraiser component of some sort,” Erskine said.

For Payne, it wasn’t difficult to share her struggle. She told her former squad members first. But she said the biggest part of sharing her story has been about getting women to do breast self-exams and get regular mammograms.

When she shared her story with her mostly male co-workers, she encouraged them to be an active part of breast cancer prevention.

“How many guys ask their wives if she got her mammogram,” Payne wondered. “Or make sure their mother gets her mammogram. It’s so important and it’s not just about awareness for women.”

Payne has discovered just how supportive and helpful a fire department family can be.

“I get four to six texts a day from someone at the department asking if I need anything — a ride, someone to sit with me,” she said. “You can’t ask for a more supportive family than a fire family.”

The members even ordered a pink shirt for her to wear proudly.

“They all look so cute in their pink shirts,” she said. “I appreciate their support so much.”

Payne has a lot to look forward to in November — her daughter is getting married. In addition to her chemotherapy, doctor visits and wedding planning, she’s also telling everyone she knows to get a regular mammogram and to do self-exams.

“They don’t always find it on a mammogram,” she said. “Anything that changes in your body whatsoever, you should get checked out.

“Sometimes it’s not a lump. It can be redness or itching or it can be painful.”

After her chemotherapy and radiation, Payne likely will be on medication for 10 to 15 years, and she’ll have to get regular bloodwork and exams to make sure the cancer doesn’t return.

“My feet haven’t stopped moving. I’m constantly following up with my doctors,” she said. “It’s a whirlwind, but I look forward to spending the rest of my life with my children and future grandchildren.”

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

Loren Genson About Loren Genson

Loren Genson was The Gazette's senior reporter. From August 2012 through September 2015, she covered Brunswick city and state and national government. To contact The Gazette, call the managing editor at (330) 721-4065.