Patrick J. Jessee, SM'09, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Man of the Year Candidate

Chicago based Patrick Jessee, SM'09, shares his story about beating cancer and his nomination for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Man of the Year.

On a summer day in 2011, I heard those words that you never want to hear “It’s cancer”. I remember that day vividly, leaning over the kitchen table still recovering from the surgical biopsy in my abdomen to determine what had been causing my back pain over the past few months. I began that following week by visiting my oncologist for the first time and went through a whirlwind of meetings with different specialists about my treatment options, my prognosis, nutritional and hygiene considerations, and how the next few months were going to be.

I was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of my blood which had spread throughout my pelvis and abdomen, working its way towards my heart. I didn’t have the option to not be treated. I needed prompt care immediately to save my life.

Frightening doesn’t begin to describe the realities of a cancer diagnosis. Previously, I had always been the healthcare provider. I am a Chicago Firefighter/Paramedic. I am one of the nearly 5000 Chicago Firefighters and Paramedics who respond to emergency calls throughout the city. I am one of those that help people off the ground when they fall, give them IVs and medicines when they are sick, extinguish their fires to protect their homes, and respond to any other call to duty that I am dispatched to. I am not the person who needs the help and medicines. I now found myself needing very specialized care for my condition. Without it, I would not survive to the winter.

Over the next six months, I underwent chemotherapy and numerous scans and blood tests to follow my treatment. I was fortunate and my body responded to the treatment within the first few cycles of chemotherapy. My cancerous lymph nodes in my abdomen began to show less signs of cancer. I was recovering and healing despite the physically, mentally, and emotionally draining experience that I was enduring during my treatment.

When I was originally diagnosed with my lymphoma, I wanted to find out further information about my condition. I knew the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) was a good source of information. I had no idea of how far they would go to help me. They immediately sent me large binders of information about my cancer, navigating the healthcare system, and how to be my own healthcare advocate, different financial support options available to me, as well as a small financial gift to help offset my costs. While other organizations did not stand up to help me, they did. All this came from an organization that I had never done anything for before in my life but that didn’t matter to them.

After I was done with my treatment, I decided that it was important to share my experience with others to help make their own cancer journey a bit easier. On the Chicago Fire Department, I quickly became the person to talk to about cancer and how to get the best treatment possible. I found that five other members were impacted with lymphoma also.

I also became active volunteering with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society as a patient advocate, speaking with legislators downstate in Springfield about the need for financial assistance and access to medicines for cancer patients. In addition, I found great satisfaction volunteering providing peer support to others who affected by blood cancers, providing them “tips & tricks” to help handle their physical symptoms, maintain their energy, and work through their treatments.

I now stand two years after my diagnosis with all clear scans and blood tests. I have no side effects of deficits from enduring those six months of chemotherapy. I have returned to a life that was better than before my cancer was detected. I am healthy, strong, and able to do everything that I was able to do before. This success is due to the advances in treatment and patient care which has benefited from organizations such as the LLS.

A few weeks ago, the LLS honored me with a nomination as a candidate for their Man or Woman of the Year Campaign. This ten week fundraising campaign is conducted on behalf of the Boy and Girl of the Year who are local blood cancer survivors. The Illinois Chapter of LLS Man and Woman of the Year are then compared to the other local chapters to determine the National Man or Woman of the Year. The Boy of the Year for the Illinois chapter, Frankie Sobie, is the nephew of a Chicago Fire Department Lieutenant. Frankie lost his eyesight during his treatment (he has partly regained it in one eye since concluding his treatment). The Girl of the Year, Piper Novak, had to endure over 700 rounds of treatment. My experience with treatment pales in comparison with what they had to endure.

When I look back at my time at the University of Chicago, as a member of the inaugural class of the then new Master’s of Threat and Response Management Program (2007-2009), I found myself surrounded with a diverse group of individuals from varying backgrounds; some in non-profit organizations, physicians, and lawyers who saw emergency management through a different lens than I did as a responder. I immensely respected these individuals then, and still do to this day. The intellectual conversations that we had helped me expand my understanding of emergency incidents so that I am better prepared now as a responder and member of the Chicago Fire Department than I was before.

More information on the Man of the Year campaign can be found on Patrick’s LLS Man of the Year webpage.

Patrick J. Jessee, SM'09