MILO, Maine — The cancer that has latched onto Mark Demers’ lung and brain, and the radiation treatment the Milo firefighter has undergone to help curb the spread of the disease has “sucked the life” out him, his wife, Robin Demers, admitted Monday.
Yet, despite his being critically ill and unable to speak well, she said Mark, 57, hasn’t given up hope of attending what he knows will be his last firefighters’ convention Sept. 11-13 in Kennebunk. Having missed only one convention in his 22 years as a Milo firefighter, it’s a goal she says he intends to meet before he departs from this world.
That goal is shared by his community and his brethren throughout New England, who have raised about $3,000 to send the family to the convention.
“It makes me feel that I have a lot of caring friends out there, and I’m very grateful for all that they’ve done,” Mark Demers said Monday, his voice barely audible.
Although organizers had hoped to send Demers and his family to the convention in a limousine, Demers balked at that, saying he and his wife are “simple folk” and a private vehicle would get him there just as well.
Robin Demers said Monday it was hard for her husband to justify the costly trip by limousine when the family is faced with staggering medical bills. She said her husband’s health insurance coverage through his former employment ended Monday.
The limousine ride was the dream of Steve DeWitt, a former Milo firefighter and chief of emergency medical services in Etna, who help spearhead the fund drive. DeWitt said Monday he recognized his heart got in the way when he planned the ride. He said he only wanted the best of the best for the best of the best.
“In my mind, any firefighter that’s given the public 22 years, deserves the red carpet treatment and that’s all I was trying to do,” DeWitt said. Because of the family’s modesty, he said the funds will pay for their trip and their expenses and the remainder will help defray the family’s medical costs.
DeWitt said the community and Demers’ brethren throughout New England have reached out to give Demers support, financially and spiritually.
To show its concern and hospitality, the Kennebunk Fire Department, which will be the host for this year’s convention, has arranged free lodging for the family, donated by Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport. The resort is not far from Walker’s Point where former President Bush summers, according to Andrew Turcotte, Kennebunk’s deputy fire chief.
Arrangements also have been made for Demers to serve as parade marshal, Turcotte said Monday. In addition, Demers will be featured in the Maine Firefighters Convention magazine.
Turcotte, who has had his own battle with spinal cord cancer and has been on the receiving end of his brethren’s support, said that the support helped him feel better despite his recurring tumors and has allowed him to return to a job he loved.
“Anytime, I think especially in the public safety arena, in good times and in the bad, we’re always there for one another but especially in illness, specifically cancer, we’ll definitely step up to the plate and help our brothers and sisters out,” Turcotte said. “It really is a chance for us to give back, it’s personally rewarding for me but also I think for the department it’s very rewarding,” Turcotte said.
While the parade marshal typically leads the parade, arrangements have been made for Demers to ride in front of his department’s walking unit. That is a source of comfort to Demers, whose goal each year has been to attend the convention and share the camaraderie with his peers throughout the state.
It’s a goal Demers has no intention of missing this year, he said.