Local firefighter opens up about challenges after surviving cancer

Local News

Todd Righter was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2018 and was able to have it surgically removed without chemo.

While he says he is blessed to continue his life with his family, he has been struggling with something most don’t talk about: The side effects from treatment — both physical and mental.

“The fire department and fire fighting is the best job in the world,” said Todd Righters, who has been a firefighter of 20 years.

It’s the reason he signed up to serve his community. A decision that wasn’t necessarily easy for their family. 

“When he decided to do it, I kind of had mixed emotions about it. We had two small children. I knew it was a 24-hour on, 48-hour off job so I would kind of be a single mom for a third of the year,” said his wife, Jennifer.

They dove into the job of working for the Columbus Fire Department knowing the risks – so they thought.

“I never in a million years thought he would get cancer,”  Jennifer said. 

Todd didn’t know what to do at first. 

“I was actually at the station and he called and said you have cancer. We need to get you into the office to look at our options and go from there.” 

He finished his shift at the firehouse before going home and telling his family the news. 

“It was like a gut punch. How did this just happen? Not one symptom, not one problem. I went from feeling normal to … What’s next? You always think the worst when you hear cancer,” he said. 

Together, they were able to get through it.

“I thought you know what at a certain point I’m going to get rid of this. I’m going to beat it and I’m going to get back to normal. And you don’t. You just don’t,” Todd said.

The side effects turned out to be more difficult than dealing with cancer. 

“With it comes a roller coaster. Two days I’m no big deal and then there is a day, ‘Why me? Why am I left with this?'”

The new normal was something a healthy and young firefighter wasn’t ready for, especially when he wanted to get back to work. 

“It was, you’re a 44-year-old man carrying around a diaper bag. At first, you are embarrassed and then you’re like, there is nothing I can do. It is what it is,” he said.

Righter suffered from incontinence, which is a side effect commonly found after fighting prostate cancer.

“One thing I’ll never say again is at least you got a good cancer.  They can get rid of it, they can fight it. I know what people are saying, ‘You’re lucky.’ There is no luck involved.”

Other issues could lead to different procedures in the future. At times he still struggles with symptoms and mentally, “He does break down. He tries to be a strong person but he does break down and we try to be as strong as we can for him,” said Jennifer. 

“It beats up on your pride a little. At the end of the day you’re here, you’re with your family, you are seeing your grandkids grow up, and my son play basketball … so you juggle that, you weigh it, and you’re just thankful,” he said.

There is always fear that cancer could come back but their family works to stay positive. 

“What I realized is, at the end of the day you never know what time frame you have. It’s the small things. I look forward to days at the park with my granddaughter. I look forward to my son playing basketball. Small things became huge,” he said. 

Todd is now working in investigations with the Columbus Fire department and their family is downsizing and moving into a condo.

As they move forward, spending time with their sons and granddaughters Todd looks at his cancer-causing career knowing that he wouldn’t change a thing. 

“You’re helping someone every day. You are making a difference in someone’s life every day. Because when they dial 911, whether you think it’s an emergency or not, it is to them.”

Which for Todd, makes the job worth the risk.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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