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A new fight: Fundraiser will help fireman cover medical bills

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Leroy Armstrong lives with added purpose and perspective today. He need look no further than across the living room of his Elizabethtown home to find it.

“My biggest thing has to be my girls,” he said with a smile.

He referred to daughters Emma, 2, and Natasha, 4, and also Julie, his wife of seven years.

Armstrong, 34, wants to see his little ones grow up and his wife grow old with him. He vows to fight Stage IV colon cancer with as much vigor as he has fought blazes for the Columbus Fire Department — one of three jobs he had — for 10 years.

Firefighter fundraiser

WHAT: Silent auction fundraiser for the family of Columbus firefighter and paramedic Leroy Armstrong to pay medical expenses not covered by insurance. Items include season sports passes from area high schools, photography sessions, hotel stays, movie passes and more.

WHEN: 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday.

WHERE: Community Building at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds, County Road 200S.

ANOTHER WAY TO HELP: An online campaign for the family is located at Type in “Leroy Armstrong” in the search box.

Relatives, co-workers and friends will aid in that fight Saturday when they conduct a fundraising silent auction at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds to help the family cover medical bills beyond insurance coverage.

“If I could turn the love of my family and friends into money, I could pay off the national debt and still have money left over,” Armstrong said.

He has been through three rounds of chemotherapy to fight a illness that metastasized to his liver. But he figures the toughest part of his sickness thus far might be adjusting to being the patient rather than a caregiver, since he also serves part time as a Columbus Regional Hospital ambulance paramedic and a hospital emergency room paramedic.

For now, he’s on indefinite medical leave from all those posts — and is already a bit edgy.

“I’m definitely used to being on the other side of the needle,” he said.

But he’s finding help at home.

“Daddy, your boo-boo,” Emma said and ran to him in his recliner and lifted his Columbus Fire Department T-shirt. Then, her tiny index finger slowly traced the scar trailing down his stomach.

She and sister Natasha only know that Daddy has been sick and needs to get well. So they generously dole out hugs and kisses on the spur of the moment. Yet, for those unaware that his frame normally carries 45 more pounds than today, they scarcely can tell he has been through his first cancer treatments at Franciscan St. Francis Health-Indianapolis.

“Of course, early detection is the big key,” Armstrong said. “Could it be that if I had gotten to the doctor earlier, I could have saved myself a surgery? I don’t know.”

His symptoms of bowel problems persisted for more than a year before he went for tests. Armstrong’s thinking: Someone his age was supposed to be healthy.

He was raised with a determined work ethic that seemingly could outlast anything — and he kept believing the problem would disappear.

“I blame myself,” he said.

A colonoscopy found a tumor. A biopsy confirmed cancer. Doctors expect his chemotherapy to last until June, when they will decide on the next step.

One surgery removed a section of his colon. Another removed part of his liver. Nothing can remove his determination, however, and the love of what he calls his second family — not only at Station 1 firehouse on Washington Street, but those throughout the first-responder network.

Among them is fellow Columbus firefighter Kevin Bozell, who became friends with Armstrong about four years ago. Bozell and his wife, Megan, have been among those planning Saturday’s event.

In recent days, Bozell has seen plenty of his friend at the firehouse.

“He really loves it, and he just can’t stay away,” Bozell said, adding that Armstrong has been stopping in recently nearly every day he normally would have been scheduled to work. “He’s already talking about when he gets back to work. He’s not going to let anything deter him.”

The family understands the adversity, though Armstrong has asked doctors not to tell him statistics of those who survive late-diagnosed colon cancers. For that reason, the Armstrongs purposely have not even asked the specific type of cancer he has.

But members of the national Firefighters Cancer Support Network have provided a big emotional boost. Armstrong already has conversed with one fellow firefighter in North Carolina who is a cancer survivor.

“They (doctors) told us we still have to have some luck on our side,” Julie Armstrong said.

They cling to prayer, too, and already aim to celebrate his five-year remission at Disney World in Florida.

“Then,” Leroy Armstrong said, “we’ll have one big party.”

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