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Firefighter with stage-four cancer inspires community to ‘hold fast’

SPONSORED — Jim Brown knows what it’s like to “hold fast” – and he wants you to, as well.

After receiving a diagnosis of stage-four lung cancer in May 2015, Brown, an Olympia firefighter, has been in and out of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, where he’s been undergoing treatment.

The diagnosis was unexpected, to say the least.

“It turned my life upside-down,” Brown said. “My life motto is that I’m living the dream. I’ve worked really hard, but a lot of things have really fallen into place for me. That came to a screeching halt in May 2015.”

As a firefighter with more than two decades of experience under his belt, Brown was, in fact, at an increased risk of developing cancer than the general population. According to a 2013 NIOSH study, firefighters are more likely to develop cancers of the respiratory, digestive and urinary systems than the U.S. population as a whole.

For that reason, Brown has spent the better part of the last two years fighting for his firefighting brothers and sisters. He is working on a program to promote better safety precautions and practices among firefighters.

“Ask anyone who knows me. I’m the last person in the world you’d think would get lung cancer,” Brown said. “I took care of myself, I ate healthy… My message is to look out for one another and be aware of all the things we get exposed to.

Looking out for others is something that comes naturally for Brown, and it’s this attitude that has touched the hearts of thousands within the community. Brown’s message to “hold fast” isn’t just for fellow firefighters – it’s for anyone struggling with anything.

“It’s an old nautical term, meaning hang on to the line and hang on tight,” Brown explained. “My father passed away in 2011, and I got ‘hold fast’ tattooed on my knuckles. It’s a daily reminder to me to persevere and keep my chin up and grind it out.”

That message has become universally admired. When Brown was diagnosed in 2015, he wrote a blog to announce it and included a photo of his knuckles. The image really “just got picked up,” according to Brown.

“It took a life of its own and it became my battle cry. When people see me or contact me, ‘hold fast’ is always part of the conversation,” he said. “It means people are thinking of me and supporting me and are aware of our situation.”

That situation includes a huge support system, from the Olympia Fire Department family to Brown’s personal friends and family to his medical team at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, where he regularly drives for treatment.

“Every single time I go to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, I’m amazed at the kind interactions I have there,” Brown said. “This is clearly the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, and any time you’re in a situation where people can help make it less difficult is awesome. I want the biggest brains working on my case, they just also happen to be super nice too.”

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