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Tough firefighter battles cancer vehemently

By Kay S. Pedrotti When friends would ask retired firefighter Mary Duffee, ‘Why in the world did you want to join the fire department at age 43?’ she gave them a surprising answer from a sweet and loving woman: ‘I would just say that I wanted to get used to the heat before I died,’ she said. That sense of humor is an invaluable part of her arsenal of weapons to fight colon cancer. Now 79, Duffee said she is prepared for anything that’s in store for her but will not give up on her treatment. She has had 13 chemo treatments, each lasting 53 hours. So far the mass inside has stopped growing, she said; another scan at the end of March will show what needs to be done next. Duffee has two daughters, LCSO booking Sgt. Teresa Mc-Whorter and Jeannie Crews. Duffee lives with Teresa and her family, including her husband Allen and two children Haley Piper, 16, and Ryan Piper, 15. Crews works in security at Gordon State College, drives a school bus and has four children. Duffee remembers joining the fire department under chief Johnny Sutton in 1980, when female firefighters were rare. She never missed a training night, she said, except when Teresa graduated from Upson Tech. She figured out that in her 30-plus years with the fire service, she went to 85% of the fires that occurred, and later became a training officer. Retired firefighter Ed Greer remembers serving with Duffee: ‘I really learned a lot of good things from her. Mary’s the one I would want to go in a burning building with me.’ She recently was honored with a retirement party by the Barnesville-Lamar County Fire Rescue personnel. She said she thought it ‘strange’ when she was first diagnosed with cancer. She had been treated for arthritis, vitamin deficiency and lack of energy because she smoked, but when she began losing weight she got worried. She consulted an internal medicine practice in Griffin. The physician assistant recommended a colonoscopy, and soon she was referred to Emory hospital to begin those two-day chemotherapies. She had to change medications at least once, when her body was ‘not processing fluids right,’ she said. ’I have a lot of faith,’ she said. ‘When I’m in those tunnels – the scanners and MRI – I just sing ‘˜Jesus Loves Me’ the whole time. It’s also puzzling to me why my lungs are clear, after 62 years of smoking a pack a day. I could be having to fight more than one kind of cancer. Also, I had a small stroke and it paralyzed one of my vocal chords – but the doctors said I was a very unique person because there was not the artery damage they expected. But hey, I haven’t had a cigarette since the first chemo treatment.’ Her best advice to anyone dealing with cancer is ‘Don’t give up! And get a colonoscopy as early as you can. If I had insisted on deeper exams of what was wrong with me, I might have had more chance that the mass would be smaller. Don’t sit around and worry about everything to the extreme – accept that there will be some things you can’t get up and do, but you’ll find your family and friends will help you. I have a great family and I know God is taking care of me.’

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