Wellington — Chris Bradley became a paramedic firefighter to help the public and save lives.
He never expected the public would come together one day to help save his.
Fellow firefighters have planned a series of fundraisers for Bradley who, at 27, was diagnosed with level four melanoma and has had to take a leave of absence from his position as a firefighter with the Greenacres Fire Department.
And it was clear how much they care from the street-fair atmosphere and the smile on Bradley's face during a fundraiser Saturday at the World of Beer in Wellington. Firefighters Against Melanoma turned a parking lot into a party, with a chicken wing-eating contest, a dunk tank with a fire chief inside, a bounce house for the kids, live music and 10 percent of proceeds from a restaurant going to Bradley's fund.
"It's been very humbling to see everyone come together to help one person," Bradley said.
Unable to work since January, Bradley has mounting medical bills for a disease that still threatens his life.
It was in December when Bradley's fiancee noticed an irregular mole in the middle of his back. In a month, doctors had to remove a 6-inch strip of skin from Bradley's back. A biopsy showed the disease had spread to the lymph nodes below his left arm.
Bradley grew up in Royal Palm Beach, fishing, surfing, working as a lifeguard. He knows that sun exposure is what led to this cancer. He hopes his story will convince people to avoid an easily avoidable — but deadly — cancer, simply by applying sunscreen before they go outside.
"Since I was 16, I've been outside without a shirt on," Bradley said.
He has been on radiation treatments as the young couple, who have just purchased their first home, struggled to make ends meet. Bradley has not been cleared to return to work although he says he feels strong and recent scans show him free of cancer cells.
That's when the firefighter's fraternity stepped in. They quickly formed a non-profit which has taken donations from across the country. The goal is not only to help Bradley cover his medical expenses but to be a safety net for other firefighters nationally afflicted with cancer.
"This is a brotherhood," said Wes Springer, 26, a lieutenant with Palm Beach County Fire Rescue who helped plan Saturday's fundraiser. "He's family and he'll always be family."
Although the non-profit is meant to raise funds — a website has been established at firefightersagainstmelanoma.com — it has also raised awareness. Since word spread about Bradley's illness, two of the many firefighters who have gone to their dermatologists to be checked for melanoma have been diagnosed with the disease. One underwent an 11-hour surgery to his face last month, a procedure that might have come too late had it not been for Bradley's public diagnosis.
Already, this brotherhood of firefighters is making a difference.
"He would never have gotten checked if I hadn't been diagnosed," Bradley said. "It's been a real eye-opener to a lot of people."