LINCOLNVILLE, Maine — For years, the massive frame of paramedic Justin Hills has been a familiar sight at car accidents, fires and everywhere else that Camden First Aid responds.
But lately Hills, a 6-foot, 7-inch Lincolnville resident and volunteer firefighter who was diagnosed last April with Hodgkins’ lymphoma, has been found more often behind a desk than at work in the ambulance. He’s still trying to keep his positive attitude, he said.
“I deal with this stuff, life and death, every day at work. You go through it. It’s just another thing you do,” Hills, 40, said Thursday.
However, the chemotherapy and other medical treatment has taken a toll — including creating a mountain of hospital bills on his counter that is “higher than my dishes are,” Hills joked. That’s why his co-workers and other community members are holding a Super Chicken Barbecue benefit for him on Saturday, March 23.
“His prognosis is excellent. He’s cancer-free right now,” Julia Libby, the service chief at the private nonprofit ambulance service, said. “We want to raise money to help with past medical bills … I’m hoping it will be a great success and we’ll have lots of fun with it. He’s a bit embarrassed by it. I told him it wasn’t about him. It was about all the people who love him.”
They are numerous, she said, adding that people are continuing to donate all kinds of items for the auction that will be held at the benefit meal. Hills formerly worked for the Camden Police Department and the Rockland Police Department and also is a big hit with his patients, she said.
“Everybody loves Justin,” Libby said. “He’s always joking, and always has a smile, but when it comes to be serious, he does a great job. He’s excellent at being a paramedic.”
Hills — who garnered a bit of fame locally a few years ago when he won the annual law enforcement doughnut-eating contest, a fundraiser for Special Olympics of Maine — said that he has appreciated all the kindness he has received since his diagnosis. His co-workers have been particularly helpful, he said, and were the ones who bugged him to seek a doctor’s opinion about the swollen gland on his neck in the first place. He found that he was suffering from Stage 2 of the disease, and the doctor said he was very lucky it hadn’t progressed further.
His co-workers also supported him when he was getting chemotherapy.
“I wasn’t in good shape to be on the ambulance anyhow, with my immune system down. My hours were seriously cut back, and I went through my vacation and sick time,” Hills said. “My co-workers gave me some of their vacation time so I could get a paycheck. You ever see a 6-foot, 7-inch guy cry?”
Altogether, his co-workers gave him several weeks of time, he said.
Hills received treatment at PenBay Medical Center in Rockport and the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care in Augusta, where he went every day for a month. Chemotherapy tuckered him out, and it was hard for a while to get off the couch and go into work, he said.
“It’s not like I was out there dangling on my own,” he said, adding that he received “huge support” from family and co-workers.
The Super Chicken Barbecue benefit for Justin Hills will begin at noon Saturday, March 23, at the Lincolnville fire station, with the auction beginning at 2 p.m. the same day. Organizers are asking for a donation of at least $10 a plate.