EXTENDED FEATURE: South Bend firefighter calls brain cancer a "blessing"

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Cancer can be a terrifying word to hear, especially if its coming from the mouth of your physician.

But Joshua Comeau isn't afraid of cancer, nor is he afraid of death.

He was diagnosed on June 4, 2014 after he accidentally side swiped a car while driving a South Bend fire truck. According to department policy, Comeau was taken for a urine sample after the crash but doctors noticed changes in his behavior that raised a red flag.

"They were telling me to sit down, I'd stand up," Comeau explained.

He was taken to Memorial Hospital where doctors there tested his ability to respond to commands then scanned his brain for any abnormalities; that's when they found an avocado-sized tumor.

The tumor was removed through open skull surgery and a pathology report showed Comeau had Glioblastoma, an aggressive form of stage four brain cancer.

"We're very blessed. It's weird to think of cancer as a blessing, but I wouldn't change a thing because this has called into focus a lot of things that I didn't think were important," said Comeau.

Leading up to the diagnosis, Comeau said he had experienced severe and constant headaches for about a month and a half. He also had episodes of "dyslexia" where words would jumble on the pages he was reading. But Comeau just blamed his symptoms on his erratic sleep patterns as a South Bend firefighter.

Comeau has been part of the South Bend Fire Department since 2007 and said he loves his job.

Members of the department donated their own vacation time to give Comeau ample time off work to recover. Beyond that, firefighters stepped up to assist Comeau complete renovations to his home while he recovered in the hospital.

At only 36-years-old, Comeau is not the typical Glioblastoma patient. Without treatment the disease has an average life expectancy of 4.5 months. With surgery, the average like expectancy rises to 15 months. Comeau is determined to live well beyond that.

Word of his disease spread throughout the South Bend community and Comeau heard from two brain cancer survivors who well exceeded the mean life expectancy. It's a little piece of hope in a world full of chemotherapy, radiation and potential for future surgeries.

"After surgery it was like 'game on' and I just like like a phoenix. I felt bold, empowered, like God has called me through this to be a better person," Comeau attributes this life-changing diagnosis to God.

He's relied heavily on his faith and the power of prayer to stay positive over the past three months.

His wife Rosary and children, ages 19 months to eight years old, are fighting cancer along side him.

"I think my time with them is less, but it's a lot more quality time that I used to have," explained Comeau, "coming home and seeing my daughter run up and say Daddy--that's worth more to me than anything in the world now."

Rosary and Comeau are taking the disease one day at a time, cognicent of the "worst case scenarios" but focusing on the "little miracles" of daily life.

After a brain scan, Rosary recalls telling her husband that whether it was brain tumor or brain cancer they would kick its butt.

"We have everything to fight for, we have an amazing life, we have beautiful kids, we have such a blessed marriage. It's been a great 10 years and I'm looking forward to the next 40," said Rosary.


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