Sterling HeightsJune 11, 2012
Sterling Heights firefighter faces familiar foe
By Cortney Casey
C & G Staff Writer
It’s the six-letter word that’s become all too familiar around the Sterling Heights Fire Department, one Eric Post hoped he’d never hear again.
In early May, Post became the latest SHFD firefighter diagnosed with cancer — and this isn’t his first time. After beating testicular cancer two years ago, Post is now battling leukemia.
“Cancer has hit our department very hard over the past eight or so years,” said firefighter Bob Haase, president of Sterling Heights Fire Fighters Local 1557. “We have had two members now diagnosed with leukemia. … We have had one member with bladder cancer, another with lymphoma, another with thyroid, another with prostate, and numerous members with skin cancer.”
In Post’s case, the telltale signs of leukemia manifested in January, but were somewhat obscured by post-traumatic stress disorder.
A member of the Michigan National Guard for more than 22 years, Post has dealt with PTSD since a one-year deployment to Afghanistan, where he was a combat adviser training the Afghan army.
“I would go days without sleep. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t shut down,” he said. “My service overseas really masked a lot of stuff, because (the leukemia) mimicked a lot of the things I’ve been battling since I’ve come home.”
While leukemia patients tend to shed weight, he put on 20 pounds in two months because — with little else to do at 3 a.m. besides watch infomercials, he quipped — he often raided the refrigerator.
He chalked up his persistent fatigue and exercise intolerance to the PTSD. Meanwhile, he was eating through vacation days at work.
“I didn’t feel well, and instead of calling in sick — it’s like, you can’t call in exhausted,” he said.
Pain near his liver finally drove him to seek medical attention in late February, leading to a battery of tests. Blaming a busy schedule, he delayed a bone marrow biopsy — recommended due to his low platelet count — from May 2 to May 4, but his denial came to an end before he ever made it to the appointment.
On May 3, Post dragged himself off the couch to attend a photo session for his son’s lacrosse team, which he coaches, and began suffering heart palpitations, chest pain and difficulty breathing.
His wife, Amanda, insisted on taking him to Henry Ford Macomb Hospital, where he learned the next morning that he had acute myeloid leukemia and was being transferred to Detroit for treatment.
After recovering from pneumonia triggered by his weakened immune system, Post began 30 days of inpatient chemotherapy. He was discharged June 4 pending results of a bone marrow biopsy to determine whether he needs just a few more chemo sessions or a month of more aggressive inpatient treatment.
“We have our fingers crossed, because his second (biopsy) showed he did respond to the chemo,” said Amanda. “If it’s clean, then he’s in remission.”
Regardless, Post needs a bone marrow transplant; “otherwise, the prognosis for this type of leukemia at five years is about 15 percent,” he said.
Support has been swift and plentiful from friends, family and strangers. Letters and cards poured in from lacrosse clubs statewide. The Warthogs motorcycle club and a fellow firefighter who held his own fundraiser sent donations.
The Sterling Heights firefighters are planning a June 21 spaghetti dinner fundraiser at the Century Banquet Club, and “we are asking for any donation that people feel comfortable giving,” said Haase.
Proceeds will help offset Post’s mounting bills. Off work for at least a year, he said he’ll be on 60 percent disability, and after six months, his insurance will run out. Frequent treks to Detroit from the family’s Armada home also have proved pricey.
After the initial “gut punch” of his diagnosis, Post said he turned to his wife and said, “We’re going to lose everything.”
Despite the dire physical and financial circumstances, Post remains upbeat, declaring simply, “It is what it is.”
“I can sit around and say, ‘Yeah, I have leukemia. This really sucks: I’m going to die,’ or whatever,” he said, “or I can spend every moment of every day enjoying life.”
Case in point: When his extended gaze out the window post-discharge prompted his wife to ask what was wrong, he responded, “Trees. I see trees.” It was, he said, a welcome sight after 30 days spent staring at a hospital wall.
And though he remains hopeful about recovery, Post said he wants to ensure he’s remembered for fighting, not wallowing.
“It’s how you deal with life’s situations that defines you as a person,” he said. “I want to be defined as — hey, nobody’s shooting at me. Nobody’s trying to kill me. I’m not doing CPR on a baby. I’m not watching someone’s belongings go up in smoke.
“Really, this is easy,” he added. “This is up to the doctors. They say my attitude is what is going to see me through it.”
The spaghetti dinner for Post runs 5-9 p.m. June 21 at Century Banquet Club, located at the American Polish Century Club, 33204 Maple Lane, north of 14 Mile, in Sterling Heights. For more information or to RSVP, contact Haase at (586) 264-1798 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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