Cancer survivor John Nickerson stands in front of fire truck 17

Firefighter Returns to Work after Battle with Cancer

Colleagues gather to welcome John Nickerson back to station 17

“Arriving at Fire Station 17 for the first time in 15 months, I felt like the most blessed man on earth to be able to return to a job I truly love. Being back on this truck is just a ton of answered prayers.”

That’s how John Nickerson described his feelings about returning to work after a difficult battle with cancer.

After experiencing stomach pain, Nickerson, whose nickname is “Big John,” was diagnosed with testicular germ cell cancer in early 2022. He endured two surgeries, intense chemotherapy, and three stem cell transplants. 

While the medical demands were taxing, Nickerson said the mental side was even more difficult.

"The hardest part was being away from my family and my job," he said.

However, through it all, his faith didn’t waver. “First of all, I want to give all the glory to God for bringing me through this and restoring me to be able to work and continue life with my family and friends. We have lost so many great humans and firefighters to cancer, and I’m honored to be on this side of it while remembering their loss and sacrifice.”

Leading Cause of Death among Firefighters

Cancer is now the leading cause of death among firefighters, according to Lowell Smith, assistant fire chief. "We’re extremely grateful and very excited to have John back and doing what he loves,” Smith said.

Keith Wilder, commander of RFD’s Health and Safety Division, emphasized that Nickerson’s return is a day to celebrate someone who took on the fight with cancer and beat it. “John is truly an amazing person and inspiration to all.”   

Nickerson’s colleagues, along with members of the RFD command staff including Fire Chief Herbert Griffin, were on hand to welcome him back to work at Station 17.

Nickerson said that “coming back to work could be compared to the feeling of waking up from a horrific nightmare and realizing you are given another chance at life. Every relationship and task becomes enriched.” 


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