Photo credit: Scott Roberson | Daily Journal

Steve Dillman, a retired member of Indianapolis, IN Local 416, has been fighting cancer for nearly 20 years. But it never held him back. In fact, he used his experience to help other fire fighters face their own cancer diagnoses and to provide cancer prevention education.

His selfless acts did not go unnoticed. The day Dillman was set to receive his first infusion treatment in late February, members from Indianapolis (Local 416) and Greenwood Fire Department,  Bargersville Fire Department and White River Township Fire District (all three of Johnson County Local 4252)– met him outside the Franciscan Health Care Center in Indianapolis.

In all, 153 fire fighters and 19 fire apparatus showed up.

“At first, I thought there had been a horrible incident at the hospital, but then I realized they were all there for me,” says Dillman. “It was overwhelming. Words cannot express how much I appreciated so many fire fighters being there to support me.”

Photo credit: Scott Roberson | Daily Journal

To commemorate this moment and to celebrate the end of treatment, Dillman’s wife, Frosty, commissioned family friend Tina Stoffel, an artist, to use photos from that day to paint a picture of the fire fighters outside the hospital. The painting, aptly named “The Brotherhood,” now hangs in the Dillman’s sunroom.

While exposure tracing was not part of the Indianapolis Fire Department’s standard operating procedures at the time, Dillman believes he was exposed to carcinogens that caused his cancer during a fire in 1985 at a storage warehouse for American Fletcher National Bank. Inside, the microfiche treated with a chemical preservative to keep it dry was burning fast.

When Dillman emerged to exchange his air tank, he could feel burning everywhere he was sweating. It was from the chemicals.

In late 2001, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, undergoing surgery in 2002. Dillman spent the next five years in remission, but the cancer was back in 2007.

Doctors prescribed radiation treatment. His treatment was nearly done when he started coughing.

“I could feel something in my throat.” Using a flashlight he looked at his throat in the mirror and saw a growth. “Doctors confirmed what I feared; it was throat cancer.”

While Dillman continued his treatments to keep his cancer at bay, he knew it was time to talk to other fire fighters about occupational cancer. He became a mentor for the Firefighter Cancer Support Network.

“In that role, I spoke to fire fighters across the country to share my experience in hopes that it would help them take the necessary steps in their own situations,” says Dillman. “It is important to have that peer support. You need someone who understands what it is like to go through treatment while being a fire fighter.”

With some assistance from Indianapolis Local 416, Dillman has expanded his efforts to help other members fight cancer by conducting cancer prevention courses.