Opelika firefighter staring cancer in the eye for the second time

OPELIKA, Ala. — A visit from the Opelika Fire Inspector to his father’s mechanic shop in 2008 changed Phillip Bell’s life forever.

Up until that point, Bell thought he would be a tow truck driver, but words from the fire inspector convinced him to join the ranks of the Opelika Fire Department. Halloween 2008 was Bell’s first day on the job, and he has not looked back since. The thrill of pushing himself to his physical limits forced Bell, also known as “Fry” to join the Marine Corps Reserve, which he served in for six years.

In early 2016, Bell noticed something different about his body. He thought he simply pulled a muscle, but it turned out to be worse than that. Several tests showed that Bell had testicular cancer.

“Being told with a doctor in front of your face that you have cancer, some people, that will break them to the core,” Bell said. “I just wasn’t that way. The doctor told me I had cancer, and I was like, alright, cool. What do we do next? I just never had that mentality. I don’t want to sit at home. I don’t want to feel bad about it. There’s nothing to feel bad about. I don’t want to foster a defeated mentality.”

After having surgery, Bell continued to have blood tests every other month.

Last month, tests returned some high numbers, which determined that the cancer metastasized to his lymph nodes.

“Working jobs that are a little high energy, a little risky, I’ve never really had so much concern with myself, as much as I’ve had for the other people around me,” Bell said. “I’ve kind of put them above me at some points. I didn’t really care what happened to me, I just wanted them to be OK, even if it’s at a cost to my health.”

The day before Bell was supposed to begin his Chemotherapy, he learned he had a blood infection that nearly killed him. Bell is on antibiotics until Monday, and then he has to wait another week to make sure the infection is out of his body. Soon after, Bell will learn if he can undergo Chemotherapy.

“I’ve already been told I’ve got cancer the second time. I’ve been through all these tests, all these things,” Bell said. “It gets to a point where nothing surprises you, it just another thing you’ve gotta do. Hey, you almost died from it. Well, I’ve almost died from other stuff too, so this is kind of like one more on the list. I’ll just take it in stride and do my thing as long as I can keep doing it.”

To help with his expenses, the fire department and members of the community are helping Bell out.

Firefighters 4 Life, a non-profit, has designed a t-shirt that will benefit Bell. Those interested in purchasing a t-shirt can call Opelika Fire Department headquarters at 334-705-5300.

There is also a GoFundMe people can donate to. If you are interested in donating to that, visit https://www.gofundme.com/phillip-bell

Folks can also make donations at all Auburn Bank locations through Firefighters 4 Life.

“When somebody’s hurting, we respond,” Fire inspector Bob Parsons said. “It’s like a family member in many ways. It’s just a natural extension that you respond in a way of the first jump to point is, how can we help this guy?

For Bell, he is extremely grateful for the assistance, but most of all, he can not wait to get back into his normal routine of making a difference in everyone’s life.

“It’s been torture for me,” Bell said. “I want to stay engaged. I want to stay in that routine. I want to stay moving, doing something. Being stuck at the house, it’s not good for me, but it’s one of those things I’ve got to do, so I’ve been pushing through that too.”

Luckily for Bell, next Wednesday, his next shift, is not that far away.

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