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The Lakeland firefighter fought cancer for 16 months. He recovered from COVID


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LAKELAND – A Lakeland firefighter and paramedic returned to work on Friday after a 16-month battle with cancer.

Clay Geiger, 31, started as a firefighter in Lakeland in 2014, but performed fire rescue operations for 10 years.

He said he was not sure the day would come when he could return, but he is delighted to resume a routine, help the community and be with the Lakeland Fire Department again, which he says is his second family.

“It has been a long journey,” Geiger said. “And I wouldn’t be where I am today without the continued support of my family and my family at work.”

Geiger said he feels his patient care as a paramedic will improve as he has learned so much being on the other side and is eager to help those in need.

Cancer is a leading cause of death among firefighters, and research shows firefighters are at greater risk than the general population. In 2019, the Florida legislature passed and Governor Ron DeSantis enacted Senate Bill 426, granting rights and benefits to firefighters diagnosed with certain cancers, including non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which is the type of cancer that Geiger was diagnosed with.

“Only 10 to 12 people in the United States are diagnosed with it per year,” Geiger said. “And because it’s so rare, they don’t have the research – it’s just not common enough. So when they do a study, it’s a very limited study, unfortunately.

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Geiger was 30 years old when he was diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma called Natural killer / T-cell lymphoma. Geiger said Dr Donald C. Lanza of the Sinus & Nasal Institute in Florida diagnosed him and referred him to the Moffit Cancer Center for treatment over a six-month period.

While undergoing treatments, Geiger tested positive for COVID-19 around Christmas in December. He said it took him three weeks to recover from the virus.

“I just think, ‘Wow, I really don’t have an immune system and I have COVID,’” Geiger said. “It was a very difficult time. I couldn’t really celebrate Christmas last year.

Geiger said the cancer and treatments significantly weakened his immune system and he contracted the virus before vaccines were available, so his doctors boosted his antibodies.

“At the time, it was an experimental infusion of monoclonal antibodies,” Geiger said. “So that’s what I did the next day, it was Christmas Eve.”

It will take several years of PET and follow-up appointments before Geiger can claim full remission. Still, he said he wanted to use his experience to advocate for cancer patients and firefighters.

“I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to return to work,” Geiger said. “It wreaks havoc on you mentally and physically with all that is needed to get through. With some of the long term effects of chemotherapy and radiation that I have had, it has been an adjustment. “

Lakeland firefighter Clay Geiger and his girlfriend Amanda Head, 26, pose in front of a Lakeland fire truck as Geiger is in uniform.

He had a great support system during his battle with cancer and he said he felt the help and support from his girlfriend, family and friends made it easier for him to get on with it. task. Geiger said members of the Polk County Firefighters Union donated about $ 4,000 in gift cards and other county fire departments made shirts in honor of his fight, which he found very special.

“On my family crest there are a few words in Latin that translate to ‘Courage grows strong at injury’,” Geiger said. “And for me, as difficult as it was, I know as I get through this, I’ll be a stronger person for it.”

The Fire Department is starting Geiger with light duties now that he’s back, and he said they spent two weeks familiarizing him with the equipment and modifications made while he was away.

“We are very happy that Clay is returning to work after a very courageous battle with cancer. He has maintained a positive attitude and has shown extraordinary courage and determination throughout his treatment,” said the Fire Chief Doug Riley in a statement. “His return is a monumental victory for the department and the citizens we are privileged to serve every day.

Ledger reporter Rebecca Lee can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @RELReports.

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