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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Firefighter returns to duty

Friday, February 3, 2006

Of all the burning buildings Shane Zurcher has walked into as a 10-year veteran of the Brazil City Fire Department, the most harrowing ordeal he's been through took place in a series of hospital rooms and doctors' offices.

Zurcher recently returned to full duty as a Brazil firefighter after a three-year battle with an aggressive form of testicular cancer. Diagnosed in May of 2003, he has endured surgeries, an intensive round of chemotherapy and the frustration of performing administrative tasks at the fire department while waiting for his health to return.

Cleared by his doctors to return to firefighting earlier this month, Zurcher is anxiously awaiting his first opportunity to get back in action.

"I've been on a couple alarms, but I haven't been on a working fire yet," he said. "I feel almost like a rookie again."

There was a time when Zurcher questioned if he'd ever return to work. His first surgery revealed that the cancer in his testicles had spread to the lymph nodes in his abdomen, and he was told it would have entered his lungs and liver if he had waited another three weeks to seek treatment.

An infection caused by the sutures used during the initial procedure delayed further treatment. Zurcher also suffered a "major" blood clot during chemotherapy, but said he was able to keep his spirits up despite the series of complications.

"I had the questions and the 'what if?'s' and everything, but there was never a time I got depressed," he said. "I put it in the lord's hands."

Zurcher's underwent chemotherapy at a Terre Haute facility from July to late-October of 2003-- 12 weeks, five days-a-week, eight hours-a-day. It's one aspect of his cancer treatment he hopes he doesn't have to repeat.

"I don't recommend it for a vacation or a hobby," he said. "I've been stuck with needles so many times I can't tell you."

Zurcher was also affected by the financial strain commonly associated with cancer treatments. He said the support of area fire departments (he received aid from departments in Brazil, Greencastle, Center Point and Posey, Jackson and Dick Johnson Townships), the Center Point Ashboro United Methodist Church and the Terre Haute Medical Lab (where he worked for eight years as a courier) have helped to defray some of his medical bills.

"I've got a lot to be thankful for," he said. "It changed my life just knowing that I have all these people who care."

The City of Brazil's Medical Light Duty Policy, a measure instituted during the administration of former mayor Kenneth Crabb that allows city employees with medical problems to continue to work full-time, made it possible for Zurcher to return to the firehouse in November of 2003. But his health dictated that he stick to paperwork and administrative duties.

"It was a major adaptation. I could do basically everything but ride the trucks," he said. "It's a weird feeling when the tones drop, the guys get ready to go and you're standing there watching them."

While Zurcher has been cleared to resume his former duties at the department, he's not yet completely out of the woods. His most recent CAT scans showed masses in his lymph nodes, but his doctor determined they were probably accumulations of scar tissue associated with his treatment.

Zurcher said he will remain under his physician's observation and continue to attend scheduled check-ups-- "They'll keep an eye on me, I'm sure, for the rest of my life," he said-- but his latest blood work came back clean, and he's confident he will remain cancer-free.

"I'm still ugly," he said, "but I feel good."

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