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Everyday Hero Fights Cancer

Chicago Firefighter Battles Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Firefighter Patrick Jessee is a hero accustomed to helping rescue others, but when he was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive cancer, he had to fight for himself.

Exactly four months before Patrick was supposed to get married, the Chicago Fire Department paramedic and firefighter underwent a CT scan that revealed he had non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a rare, aggressive cancer that starts in white blood cells called lymphocytes.

Patrick and his fiancée, Angie, immediately postponed their wedding. He began six months of rigorous treatment with Oncologist Leo Gordon, MD, lymphoma specialist and director of the Lymphoma Program at Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center at Northwestern University.

As a patient, Patrick chose to become an informed advocate for his own care. “I consciously made the mental shift to look at my physician as my colleague,” he says. Dr. Gordon made it clear from the beginning that was how he liked to practice, too. He even gave Patrick his cell phone number at the first appointment.

Looking Forward, Giving Back

By the time Patrick and Angie were married in 2012, Patrick was in remission — and he has been cancer-free for six years. “I’m here because of research — and some luck,” he says.

At the request of Patrick and fellow firefighter Lt. Michael Shubert, the Chicago City Council passed a resolution to honor Dr. Gordon in November 2017. Patients, family, friends and colleagues surprised Dr. Gordon at a reception held at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Patrick also gives back by being a mentor for other cancer survivors — especially other firefighters and paramedics, who have a 9 percent higher risk of cancer due to exposure to cancer-causing materials on the job.

Patrick sees his cancer journey as part of a bigger picture. “There’s no evil in cancer; it just happens,” he says. “My survivorship comes through the successes and failures of everyone who came before me. It’s a long-term thing.”