Ajax fire chief battling cancer

Ajax fire chief battling cancer - Mark Diotte says ‘goal is to come back’ - AJAX -- On June 7, what Mark Diotte calls his “journey” began.

It was on that day the Ajax fire chief was told he had cancer. Now, four months and 40 pounds later, his “goal is to come back.”
Chief Diotte is battling lung and brain cancers and “the doctor said I have a good shot at cancer control. I would never predict anything. Everyone has their own path.”

The tumors have been shrinking with the radiation he’s undergone.

It all began with a seemingly unrelated malady.

“I had a sinus infection, like a flickering in the eye. The physician said I had a severe sinus infection,” he said, adding the infection could cause ‘silent migraines.’

The doctor ordered a CAT scan and “they scanned my head and they said ‘you’re not going anywhere. There’s something in your head.’ That’s when my journey started,” Chief Diotte said.

He’s gone through 41 rounds of radiation, including 35 on his chest and six on his brain.

Radiation for his brain cancer has been at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, while he’s been going to the Durham cancer centre in Oshawa for “everything else. They’re fantastic places, both of them. I’ve been treated really well,” the chief said.

He undergoes CAT scans on a regular basis “just to make sure,” he added.

His experience “certainly changes your perspective of life. I’m blessed I have a very good family and friend support system,” Chief Diotte noted.

His daughter Natalie is a teacher and during the summer “she did all the heavy lifting” by driving to and from medical appointments and treatments, he stated.

“You have to keep a positive attitude. It’s tough some days, but when you get down, friends and family help you cope,” Chief Diotte said. “They bring you around again, they bring your attitude back up again, it’s really good.”

He misses work “huge, absolutely.”

He’d like to go to work “but they (his doctors) won’t let me, but I miss it huge,” he said.

Folks at work keep in contact with him about what’s going on, he noted.

He’s also received between 100 to 200 cards wishing him all the best.

Chief Diotte started working as a firefighter part-time in Pickering in 1980 and was hired on full-time in 1983.

He’s not sure if the cancers are work related, but he has filed a claim with Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. The board hasn’t yet ruled and he has no time frame for when the board will.

He stayed with the Pickering department until 2006, when he joined Ajax as a deputy chief. He became chief in June 2010 when then-chief Randy Wilson retired.

“I miss being part of the process of providing that service to the community,” Chief Diotte noted, adding this is the first lengthy time he’s been off the job since becoming a firefighter.

“It’s not the same as going in every day and helping people.”

He and a friend are working on an early detection system.

“I think it’s important. I passed my physical on Jan. 8. That’s no knock on my doctor. He’s fantastic. I was asymptomatic,” he said.

“We’re working to get a better system. Medically, they’re not good at early detection. That’s a layman speaking,” the chief said. “You just get a blood test. You don’t even get a chest X-ray anymore. An X-ray would have found my tumors.”

He’s supported by his wife Jennifer, daughters Natalie and Bridgette and dog Chili.

“There are a lot more worse off than I am. They don’t have families. The volunteers are fantastic. They help them get to where they need to go,” he said. “I’m fortunate. My daughter drove me and looked after me. A lot don’t have that. I take my hat off to (volunteers).”


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