OPERATIONS: ROUTINE The Lifesaving Physical: How Family Man Chris Lines Survives Multiple Myeloma I n the 20th year of Chris Lines’ fire fighting tenure, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare and incurable blood cancer. Myeloma makes up just 1 percent of cancers, but it is the second most prevalent blood cancer after lymphoma. According to multiple studies, it is 1.5 times more likely a fire fighter will develop multiple myeloma compared to the general population. Multiple myeloma begins when plasma cells, white blood cells found in bone morrow, mutate and start to reproduce themselves. According to Lines’ doctor who handed the now 52-year-old the diagnosis eight years ago, his line of work caused his cancer. “I got a call from the doctor and he said I was anemic and my red blood cells were low,” Lines says. “I did a blood test and a bone marrow biopsy and they gave me the big diagnosis. They caught it real early, not early enough to cure, but before it caused really any damage to the bones or organs or anything.” The Vancouver Fire Department requires its members to take annual wellness tests—a requirement that saved Lines’ life. He says if his doctor hadn’t done the extra tests after the red flags rose from his physical, he wouldn’t have known until it was too late to even medicate. The immediate solution was for a stem cell transplant, modern medicine’s “golden ticket” for putting cancer into remission and keeping it at bay for a few years. “The kind I have always comes back, it never goes away forever,” the Battalion Chief explains. “When they offered the transplant to me, I had a nine-year-old boy getting ready to play All-Star little league—I wasn’t going to go into the hospital for a couple weeks and be out of commission for four months. I said I wasn’t going to do the transplant, I’ll take all the stem cells out and freeze them and watch this kid play baseball.” Considering himself lucky, Lines’ treatment consists of 14 pills per month that have helped him to continue on with his life, without pulling him away from his family or his passion in the fire service. Today, he uses that fervor to tell his story and encourage better practices in the field. “I tell the guys at work all the time the best thing that can happen to you is to pull in the driveway in the morning and have two little screaming kids come out and give you a big hug,” says the father of two teenage boys, the eldest currently enrolled in fire school. “You guys want to make sure you get to that in life and don’t jeopardize your future by doing anything crazy in the fire service or the same thing with taking care of yourself.” Steadfast to the rules of better practices, Lines says he never took any risks when it came to his time on calls, but recognizes that his education of carcinogen exposure was limited prior to his diagnosis. He strives to change that mindset as younger fire fighter classes come on board, encouraging them to take care of themselves and for his own generation to adapt to new safety precautions. “I think the fire service has really taken a positive role in getting their members tested, buying some of the best practices available,” Lines says. “Fire fighting is always going to be dangerous because of the chemicals you’re involved with. After talking to some experts, you don’t know how bad you’re exposed to something until 20 years down the road. If you can do what you can do in the mean time, then I think that’s a huge benefit and I do think that’s happening now in the fire service.” His advice to fire fighters on carcinogen exposure? Check yourself constantly. “If you’re in a fire, take the time, not just for you but for your family, to do all the best practices even if you’re tired,” Lines says. “But if I could give any kind of encouragement, it is to continually get a physical every year. Make sure you do it.” BY ERIN JAMES 2 0