"Something like this could happen to anyone," Rogers recently told The Brazil Times about his cancer diagnosis. "There's shock and then anger before you decide to fight back. When diagnosed, you just don't pick up the phone and call everyone with the news. What can you say? Even with good friends, there's that long pause of silence. They don't know what to say. I say, just talk to me."
In October, Rogers was seeking medical treatment for an arm/shoulder injury caused when a patient kicked him while being loaded into an ambulance. When it wouldn't heal properly, doctors were running an MRI on Rogers to determine the extent of the injury before performing surgery, which is when they discovered a cancerous growth.
"Less than 5 percent of patients are diagnosed with this type of cancer," Rogers said about the disease that is affecting his entire family. "A week after I was diagnosed with Type Two, Stage Two cancer, my brother was diagnosed with Stage Four. We both go to the same doctor, but we're being treated for different types of cancer."
From November to February, Rogers underwent a battery of tests to determine his type of leukemia and treatment options. Currently, Rogers, who is a large man, is undergoing five-hour chemotherapy treatments that are three times the normal amount of medication given to patients.
"They just knock me out for days. There are times when getting out of bed is all I can do for the day," he said. "I started out at 409 pounds, but I've lost 59 pounds in 21 days during the three treatments. Soon, instead of calling me Big Jim, people are going to have to start calling me Slim Jim."
Humor, honesty and community service are big parts of Rogers' life.
"I grew up in an Irish firefighter family," he said. "I was raised to believe that you just gave of yourself to the community. Might be old school, but it was the honorable thing to do. It was a family tradition."
Both of Rogers' grandfathers, his father and a brother are also emergency response personnel. Their influence was the reason Rogers made his career choice early.
"Firehouses were like my second home," he said. "I fell in love with being an EMS/firefighter. That's why I was a certified first responder when I graduated from high school."
During his lengthy career, Rogers has worked for many emergency response agencies, including Operation Life, Lance Ambulance Service, Putnam Parke Clay (PPC) Ambulance Service, Wishard Ambulance Service, United LifeCare (Parke Co.), Clay County Search and Rescue and Posey Township and Reelsville Township volunteer fire departments.
"I've been fortunate to work with some really great people," Rogers said.
However, participating with the Reelsville Volunteer Honor Guard memorial team -- which helps families of firefighters/emergency workers who have died -- let him see a different side of emergency response.
Although Rogers admits life has been put on hold temporarily to fight cancer, he refuses to give up hope.
"Cancer doesn't discriminate, it can get anyone. I've sat with other cancer patients during treatment who have lived healthy lifestyles, and yet they're there. I'm not giving up," Rogers said about his and his brother's fight. "We're not giving up. This is just a bump in the road. It's not hard being sick, you get used to that. What is hard is hearing the radio go off and not being able to go."
Rogers made a commitment to serve others, never expecting to need help himself one day.
"We weren't prepared for what is happening now. I had quit smoking 10 years ago and was trying to get in good health for the future," Rogers said. "My wife Kathy and I were joking about retirement, but this has happened and now we're losing everything."
Unable to speak about details surrounding the loss of his job and the ultimate loss of his health and life insurance because of pending legal proceedings, Rogers confirmed his illness is affecting his family's financial future.
"Every dime we've saved is gone now," Rogers said. "I'm not worried so much for myself as I am for those around me. I couldn't ask for better medical care. But there's thousands of dollars worth of medical bills at home, and they just keep piling up. I used to be the family provider, now my wife, my family and my friends are taking care of me."
To send cards or letters of encouragement to Big Jim Rogers, send them to 1846 West County Road 700 North, Brazil.
How to help
On March 21, a "fill the boot drive" fundraiser took place to help emergency service worker "Big Jim" Rogers cover medical expenses at the intersection of United States 40 and State Road 59.
"People who didn't even know Jim came out to help," Bruce Wolf told The Brazil Times about the Brazil event that rose approximately $5,000. "We want to thank the citizens of Clay County for their wonderful generosity. There were firefighters at two other firehouses outside of Clay County who collected funds too. We also are planning another, larger event for sometime this summer. The hard part was keeping what we were doing from Jim."
A call from a fellow firefighter let Rogers in on the event.
"It just blew me and my wife away," Rogers said. "My fellow brothers and sisters getting together to do this meant so much to us. It's like a stamp of approval. I've truly been blessed to know these men and women."
To make donations to help "Big Jim" Rogers, send checks and/or money orders to Riddell National Bank in care of:
Clay County Search & Rescue
Memo: Leukemia Fund
Attention: Marci Rush
1 East National Avenue
Brazil, Ind. 47834
Rogers, who has served as a firefighter/EMT in the Wabash Valley area during the past 25 years, has been off work since diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia this past November.