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How a local firefighter has learned to ‘embrace the suck’ as she battles cancer

Myrtle Beach firefighter discusses battle with cancer

As a firefighter of 10 years at MBFR, Jennifer Gilbert used to spend her days and nights at Fire Station #6 on 38th Avenue N. Now she works 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in an office as she continues treatment for breast cancer.
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As a firefighter of 10 years at MBFR, Jennifer Gilbert used to spend her days and nights at Fire Station #6 on 38th Avenue N. Now she works 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in an office as she continues treatment for breast cancer.

It was tough for 36-year-old Jennifer Gilbert to give up her normal schedule and daily duties of her job as a firefighter at Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue. Her life flipped upside down when she was diagnosed with breast cancer March 9.

As a firefighter of 10 years at MBFR, Gilbert once spent her days and nights at Fire Station #6 on 38th Avenue N. Now, she works 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in an office as she continues treatment.

“Ironically, it was self caught. I was doing some work for my mom at our home computer and I went like this,” Gilbert said, crossing her arms under her breasts. “I was like, ‘Hmm, that wasn’t there before.’ I feel so lucky and so blessed that, what if I would have not crossed my arms? What if I would have not pursued it?”

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Myrtle Beach firefigher Jennifer Gilbert stands next to a fire engine at Myrtle Beach Fire Station 1 on Tuesday.

Gilbert has invasive ductal carcinoma, a common type of breast cancer. She said it means the cancer grows in the milk duct before it spreads to the outside tissue and cells.

“It was caught very early and there’s a high percentage that it can be cured and that this won’t be an ongoing issue, which is fantastic news, but there’s always that skepticism in the back of your mind,” Gilbert said.

When she learned she had cancer, she said a lot was running through her mind.

“How do I fix it? What do I have to do to make it go away? What does my future look like?’” Gilbert explained. “I still think five months later it’s kinda surreal. You just hit it head on and do what you’re supposed to. I just want to have it taken care of and move on with my life.”

Gilbert said one of her biggest challenges she’s had to overcome is being restricted due to surgeries, treatment and not feeling well.

“It’s a daily roller coaster, I try to keep my life as normal as possible,” she added. “I come to work on my good days and I stay home and rest on my challenging days and I just try to keep going. Just keep moving, keep doing what I’m supposed to be doing and keep focusing on the outcome and a better life after.

“The side effects that come with the treatment and medication are things that you wouldn’t even think of that affect your daily life and those side effects can be challenging. The good days I would say the side effects are a little less or a little more manageable.”

Gilbert recently completed her last treatment of chemotherapy. The fire department, which she said has been supportive since Day 1, threw her a pizza party last week to celebrate the milestone.

“We’re very proud of her for going through it and coming out on top and wish her all the best,” said Lt. Jonathan Evans.

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Jennifer Gilbert pictured with former MBFR Fire Chief Alvin Payne - Provided by Gilbert

Just like it was chance Gilbert felt the lump on her breast, the same applies to how she became a firefighter.

Shortly after she moved from Michigan to Myrtle Beach about 12 years ago, she was working at a recreational center when someone from the department stopped by and mentioned they were hiring.

“I didn’t even know what a firefighter was. I didn’t know what it entailed, but I was up for the challenge,” Gilbert added.

Although she faces a different challenge now, she’s learned to “embrace the suck” and to appreciate her good days.

“Remember that there’s a purpose for all of life’s challenges,” Gilbert said. “You can either let those challenges beat you down or use them as building blocks to become a better version of yourself.”

Michaela Broyles: 843-626-0281, @MichaelaBroyles

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