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News | March 23, 2022

Nurse urges cancer awareness, citing example of fallen firefighter

By Kenner Army Health Clinic

FORT LEE, Va. – Still saddened by the death of family friend and former Fort Lee firefighter Mike Lecik, a Kenner Army Health Clinic nurse urges community members to be diligent with routine checkups that increase the chances of detecting cancer early when it is more treatable.

Sherry Hamel, an RN in the Preventive Medicine Department at Kenner, shared the story of what happened to Lecik while underscoring the importance of March’s Multiple Myeloma Awareness Month observance.

Myeloma is the rare form of bone marrow cancer that took Lecik’s life. Cancer, in general, is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., only surpassed by heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Medical practitioners such as Hamel view it as a health crisis made more tragic by the number of individuals who dismiss the importance of preventative care and early detection.  

“Let me tell you a little bit more about Mike,” Hamel proposed. “He was an Air Force veteran who completed two deployments under Operation Enduring Freedom (and other noteworthy assignments) during his military career.”

He then became a professional firefighter, not only serving as the assistant chief of the Huguenot Volunteer Fire Department but also joining Fort Lee Fire and Emergency Services as a DOD Civilian employee. He was the chief fire inspector here from 2016 until his retirement in 2019.

“The fire department is near and dear to my heart because of the vital job they do for our community and because my husband has been a part of Fort Lee Fire and EMS going on 23 years. My husband and Mike were co-workers and friends.

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet Mike and would describe him as a gentle giant with his six-foot stature that could easily intimidate height-challenged individuals like myself,” Hamel continued. “I also met Mike's wife, Tiffany, and his children, but not until after their journey with MM had started. (Following) is the account she shared with me concerning the cancer diagnosis.”

Tiffany wrote, “(March 2019) … will always be the month that changed my life and his (as well as the kids, the parents, friends, co-workers and so many others). Mike was diagnosed with stage III Multiple Myeloma, a rare cancer of the plasma cells that affects typically African-American men ages 65 and up. Mike was a white male, age 39.

“By the end of that month,” she continued, “Mike was admitted to the hospital with complications from his first chemo treatment. He suffered a life-threatening mal seizure, which left him paralyzed from the waist down the next day. This side effect is so rare it has only been documented a handful of times for this particular cancer.”

Tragically, Lecik would lose the battle against cancer two years later. The typical life expectancy of someone with MM stage III is 29 months. He lived 24 months after diagnosis.

“Mike was not the ‘typical’ individual in terms of age and genetic background to be taken away from us by Multiple Myeloma,” Hamel pointed out. “That’s the point. It is very easy to think ‘it won’t ever happen to me because…,’ but it can and it does.

“Please be an advocate for your health,” she further emphasized. “If it doesn’t feel right or seem right, get it checked out. Continue to keep Mike’s memory alive by reading and learning about this cancer. Everyone also can get involved by donating blood for life-saving transfusions or by contributing to an organization doing incredible research to help save and prolong the lives of cancer patients.”

The American Cancer Society website, www.cancer.org, offers a wealth of information in the categories of cancer prevention, recommended health screenings and support services. Kenner beneficiaries with questions or concerns can make an appointment to speak with their health care provider. Schedule appointments with a www.tricareonline.com account or call 1-866-533-5242.

Hamel requested the dedication of this article to the memory of Mike Lecik (#LecikStrong).

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