Co-workers surround JFRD lieutenant as he rings proton therapy victory bell

JFRD Lt. Brian Kernohan diagnosed with brain cancer just before holidays

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A lieutenant with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department is one step closer to being cancer-free.

Lt. Brian Kernohan, who has been with JFRD for 15 years, was diagnosed with a brain cancer just before the holidays.

On Monday, along with 100 of his co-workers and family members, Kernohan, 36, celebrated the end of proton therapy, which is a type of radiation therapy. 

It all started as a bet from a nurse, who said she didn't think her patient, Kernohan, could get supporters to fill the lobby at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute.

The nurse lost the bet. 

Kernohan is a husband and a father of two boys, but his family is much bigger than that. His JFRD family packed the lobby Monday to watch Kernohan ring the proton therapy victory bell. 

"No matter what cancer you have, I think your attitude has everything to do with it," Kernohan said. "You get the best treatment in the world, the best doctors in the world, but if you're already defeated before you start -- and your mindset -- you're not going to succeed."

Kernohan’s wife, Katie, said it’s been easy for them to stay positive because of the support they’ve received from JFRD.

"I love everybody here. We love the support we get. They're such an encouragement," she said. "To see everybody come out and support us through this. And ringing the chime is only a few seconds, but just their love and support phone calls, texts and everything we get from everybody has been wonderful."

Kernohan still has about a year left of other treatments before he’s cancer-free and his bills are already pilling up. On Jan. 3, he hit his maximum out-of-pocket for the year. 

Kernohan said he wants more to be done for firefighters who have been diagnosed with cancer. Research shows 61 percent of firefighter line-of-duty deaths since 2002 are cancer-related. 

"If I fell out of the window and broke my arm -- no questions asked, it’s workmen’s comp. Now, all of a sudden, now you have cancer. It's, kind of, a hands-off -- wash their hands and good luck to you," Kernohan said.

Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters, said progress is being made in the state of Florida with a new bill that was recently introduced.

"Sen. [Anitere] Flores, out of the Miami area, filed a bill last week which protects firefighters if they get cancer just like Brian. Brian's cancer is one of the cancers listed in the bill. We should have it filed in the House soon," Wyse said. "If the firefighter comes down with cancer, it will not be filed under workmen's comp. It’ll be under the health insurance of whatever that firefighter has." 

Kernohan will have about a month off from treatments, then start chemotherapy. In the meantime, he will return to work on light duty.

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