Fresh off leukemia fight, he's back to fighting fires

PERKINS TWP. Steve Westcott describes himself as a high-intensity person always looking for a challe
May 24, 2010



Steve Westcott describes himself as a high-intensity person always looking for a challenge.

Those traits led him to a career in firefighting. But this year, he almost got more of a challenge than he could handle.

Westcott was diagnosed in July with acute myeloid leukemia. He's now in remission, and on Jan. 3 -- exactly six months after his diagnosis -- he will be cleared to go back to work with the Perkins Township Fire Department.

Westcott, 25, started feeling a bit under the weather in May.

"I was worn down," he said. "I was working a lot. My appetite wasn't right. My skin was becoming more pale, and that's because I was becoming anemic."

He didn't realize just how sick he was until he had his wisdom teeth pulled and had swelling afterward. Rather than an infection, blood tests showed leukemia.

In addition to the Perkins job, Westcott was working part-time for the Huron Fire Department and Firelands Regional Medical Center. He was also an instructor in the paramedic program at EHOVE Career Center.

After the diagnosis he quit work and moved in with his fiance in Sheffield Lake to be closer to the Cleveland Clinic, where he spent 80 days in treatment.

Westcott had his final round of chemotherapy just before Thanksgiving. Now he's set a goal to work out at least two hours every day to rebuild his strength and stamina before going back to work.

"It was hard being in such good shape and then losing it," he said. "But then at the same time, that's what saved my life -- being young and being in shape."

Emotional support may have been a key to recovery, too. His fiance, Aryn Smith, spent hours by his bedside, his fellow firefighters helped raise thousands of dollars, and more than 300 people sent get-well cards, he said.

Westcott's father, Steven, said the five months Steve spent in treatment was a long, trying period.

"His family, friends and community have been a very, very big support group for him," said Steven, a Castalia resident. "It's fantastic how the community has come together for my son."

Westcott said the experience has made him appreciate all of his relationships more.

"I always thought at work that we had a brotherhood, and I always knew it was strong," he said. "But until going through this, I never knew exactly how strong it is."

If there's anything Westcott is more excited about than his first day of work Jan. 7, it's his wedding in June.

He and Smith never put anything on hold or took a break from wedding planning. They joke that the "sickness or health, better or worse" part is covered, he said.

"We've done all that," Westcott said. "We need some harder vows."