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Determined Fire Fighter Fought Cancer While Training for Marathons

Fire Engineer-Paramedic Stephen Farmer joined the Shreveport Fire Department in 2000. Farmer, 37, has been married to his high school sweetheart, Angela, for 16 years. Together, they have one daughter, Chloe, who is eight years old.

On his days off, Farmer works as a paramedic for Veteran’s Administration Hospital. It was there he met Bill Callahan. Callahan shared his love for running and his experience training for a marathon. Farmer would also learn about the struggles Callahan faced. When he was in his 20's, Callahan was in a terrible car accident that nearly took his life. The accident shattered one of his legs, causing it to be several inches shorter than the other. While recovering from his car accident, Callahan suffered a mild stroke which affected his right side. Callahan was also severely overweight. Those challenges weren’t enough to stop him though. He decided to get back into shape and lost more than 100 pounds - first by walking, then jogging.

Farmer had always loved being active, and for several years ran 5Ks for fun, but when Callahan told him about running the Walt Disney World Marathon in Orlando, Florida, Farmer set a goal to run it with Callahan. Seeing how much running had changed Callahan’s life truly inspired him.

Farmer began his training, and in December 2003 ran his first marathon, the Dallas White Rock Marathon. His training continued, and in January 2005 he fulfilled his goal of running the Walt Disney World Marathon. In the fall of 2005, Farmer answered the call to work in New Orleans and the surrounding areas following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He continued to train when he could and found that running helped relieve the tremendous stress he experienced while serving in the disaster area. On one of his runs, someone had even taken video footage of Farmer running down a road where alligators were just steps away.

In January 2006, Farmer ran the Goofy Challenge at Disney World – a half marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday, for a total of 39.3 miles in two days. This event had special meaning for Farmer as he was able to complete the half marathon with his mother.

In March 2006, Farmer faced a challenge far more difficult than the 39.3-mile, two-day run he had completed just two months ago. When he noticed a small knot in his neck, his wife suggested he get it checked. At first he ignored her concerns, but by July, not only had the first knot grown considerably, but there was an additional, unexplained knot. Farmer decided it was time to visit his family doctor. After completing 10 days of antibiotics there was no change in the growths, and he was referred to a surgeon who recommended that the knots be removed the next day.

While he understood the importance of having the knots removed and biopsied, the next day, Farmer already had plans. He had taken his love for running and turned it into a way to help others. Working with the local MDA during the Fill the Boot campaign, Farmer had organized the “Beat the Heat 5K” to raise money for MDA. So after competing in the 5k, Farmer had the knots removed, waiting an agonizing week for the results.

Farmer remembers his wife insisting that she accompany him to the doctor to get the results, though he didn’t think it was necessary. He recalls, “It was August 23, 2006, that my world hit a brick wall. In hindsight, I am glad my wife did insist on coming to the appointment, because it was then I learned I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I left the office in a haze, in denial, and still planning to go into the fire station at 2:30 that afternoon.”

It was just a few minutes later that Farmer received a phone call from the oncologist. He would not be heading to the station that night. Instead, he went to the hospital to have an echocardiogram prior to his appointment with the oncologist the next day. After a CT scan the next morning, he went to his first appointment with the oncologist. That afternoon, he learned the cancer had infiltrated into his chest, which put him in the Stage 4 category.

Farmer wasn’t able to eat or sleep for two days. Just two days after learning he had cancer, he was in the hospital receiving his first round of chemotherapy. It all seemed crazy to him, especially since he never had any symptoms associated with Hodgkin’s disease. His doctor suggested that his lack of symptoms could have been attributed to his level of activity and training at the time.

Farmer’s determination wouldn’t keep him down for long. He had already planned and paid for a trip to California to run the Inaugural Disneyland Half Marathon in mid-September, and his doctor altered his treatment schedule so he could travel to California with his family and compete in the race. Farmer had also registered for the Houston Marathon scheduled for January 2007.

Although he was relieved to hear he was in remission on December 15, 2006, the chemotherapy would continue for several months, getting tougher each time. A full marathon was just impossible. However, he was determined to complete the half marathon. Though he was receiving chemotherapy every two weeks he continued to push through and train when he could. The therapy would knock him down every time, which forced him to start training over again. After receiving chemotherapy on the Friday before the half marathon and taking steroid medication all weekend, he completed the Houston Half Marathon. “I looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy and that evening, I felt like I was hit by a truck,” says Farmer.

Farmer had to give up running for the time being. The chemo drug, Bleomycin had damaged his lungs and running had become too difficult. On March 23, 2007, he received his final chemotherapy treatment, and on his birthday, April 13, he returned to the fire department after an eight-month medical leave, during which time he became a certified IAFF/IAFC/ACE Peer Fitness Trainer.

It didn’t take too long for him to feel ready to train again. In January 2008, he again completed the Walt Disney World Marathon. Unfortunately, his struggles weren’t over yet. Farmer also suffered from a bad case of Hyponatremia, a medical condition sometimes caused when athletes consume too many fluids during endurance events. In that year he also ran the Mardi Gras Marathon and the Tulsa Route 66 Marathon. In August 2008, he had to have an appendectomy because he had three different types of strep in his blood. The doctor said he was closer to death than when he was fighting cancer.

Today, Farmer is doing well and continues to train for and run marathons. “During this long journey, I could not have made it without the support from my church, family, great friends and the Shreveport Fire Department. Running and taking care of my body physically has definitely helped my body fight through this,” he says.


This information is for educational purposes only. It does not replace the advice of your physician. If you have any medical concerns or issues, contact your physician.