Like most firefighters, Shadd Rohwer, is all about adventure, fitness and health.
Paddle boarding, boating and traveling in between shifts at the firehouse, one he’s served for 17 years.
He’s a Lieutenant with the city of Farmington Fire Department in New Mexico and a Colorado native.
But one year ago, at his annual physical, doctors found a massive tumor in his kidney.
He had no symptoms. At 42 years old, on his birthday, with so much left to do in life, doctors told him to get his things in order.
“[The doctor] showed me these terrible, scary pictures of this giant tumor. It was terrifying. It was absolutely terrifying. I’ve never been more scared in my life,” Rohwer said.
Two other firefighters at his fire station were also battling cancer at the time and through the grapevine found out about The Urology Center of Colorado (TUCC) and a clinical trial that might be his only hope.
“He’s a young man and he’s got renal kidney cancer that has spread to his lungs,” Urologist Dr. Lawrence Karsh, the Director of Research at TUCC, said.
The first hurdle was removing the massive tumor from his kidney. That was actually the easy part.
“They had 15 minutes after the tumor lost its blood supply to get the DNA samples,” Rohwer said.
Those samples were to determine if he qualified for the clinical trial for a drug called Votrient, also known as Pazopanib, to treat his lung cancer and prevent it from spreading.
“What we actually did was take his tumor and we made a vaccine from his particular marrow so it’s designed specifically for him,” Dr. Karsh said.
Rohwer has made 25 trips to the doctor's office.
Now, all it takes is a quick check up every few weeks and a not-so-fun injection into his armpit.
There’s just one obvious side effect.
“Almost immediately I started turning white, and I’ve just gotten whiter. My hair has turned white, eyelashes, eyebrows, the hair on my arms and toes has all turned white,” Rohwer said. “Even my skin. I’ve been outside all summer long and nothing.”
He's now in remission and able to joke about the sacrifices he's made, especially to his diet
“Living in southwest Colorado and New Mexico, everything has cheese and chili in it, neither of which works good with my digestive system anymore,” jokes Rohwer.
A small price to pay to get a second chance to live the life he loves.
All the doctors who have seen Rowher have said his cancer is most likely occupational, from his service in the fire department.
Nearly 60 percent of firefighters will die from some form of cancer. Studies show the carcinogens that are around them on a daily basis are the culprit for many cancers.