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Marysville firefighter faces toughest battle
MARYSVILLE — Life-threatening situations are nothing new to Ray Hancock who’s served as a firefighter with the Marysville Fire District for 17 years, but on April 6 he learned he was facing a danger that’s much harder to escape from than a burning building.
“That’s the date I was diagnosed,” said Hancock, who’d served as a driver on the Ladder 62 crew since its conception. “At first, I just felt a pinched nerve in my left arm, but it’s gotten worse from there.”
Hancock was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is caused by the degeneration of motor neurons, the nerve cells in the central nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement. Hancock’s symptoms to date have ranged from weakness in his arms to the loss of manual dexterity. Although he’s still able to perform everyday tasks with difficulty, he’s been pulled from the fire district’s line of responders and is now on light duty status, working in the district’s administration building.
“I was told I probably have three to five years,” said Hancock, a compact, muscular man who maintains a stoic face in spite of his prognosis. “There are cases where people live a lot longer, but eventually it will take its course.”
Hancock has discussed his situation with his wife of 24 years, Lisa Marie, and their two sons, both of whom are in college. He considers himself lucky that he’s remained physically self-sufficient and that his insurance has covered his medical expenses so far, and he’s focusing on improving the quality of his life rather than trying to extend it.
“We’re doing everything we can to enjoy ourselves,” Hancock said. “I’m working with a natural path to keep my strength up with vitamins. There are other medicines that I could be taking, but those only give you about three extra weeks at the end. In the meantime, I’m fortunate that I can talk and I’m not on feeding tubes. I’m fumbling, but I’m still getting by and doing things on my own. It’s hard to believe I have it sometimes. No one has to help me do things like feed myself yet. That comes later on down the line.”
Hancock chuckled as he acknowledged that one of the most challenging aspects of being diagnosed with ALS has been learning what ALS actually is.
“You hear the term ‘Lou Gehrig’s disease,’ but you put it on a mental back-burner until you have it,” Hancock said. “There’s still a lot of learning going on. No one can say what my progression of ALS will be like. I’m concerned about respiratory failure, since that’s the leading cause of death with ALS. You’re kind of okay until you’re not,” he laughed. “That’s good, though, because I can still come into the office and pitch in to help the overall team.”
Coworkers, friends plan Oct. 9 fundraiser
Hancock’s fellow firefighters are reciprocating his support with a fundraiser for Hancock and his family at Boston’s Gourmet Pizza in Lakewood Oct. 9 from 1-7 p.m.
“Our professional firefighters will be assisting Boston’s staff in waiting and bussing tables,” said Josh Olsen of the Marysville Professional Firefighters. “All funds collected will go directly to the Hancock family.”
“Their support has been overwhelming,” Hancock said of his fellow firefighters. “It just warms my heart. They’re giving so graciously.
“We had an elite group in our ladder truck,” he added. “I miss running calls with them. I miss working with those guys.”
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