The Reporter (Vacaville)
Community rallies around firefighter battling cancer
Chris Bell has been focused on firefighting since his teen years, when he was an explorer with the Vallejo Fire Department. He signed on with Fairfield Fire around 2002 as a reserve, and was picked up full-time a few years later.
During the past 20 years, the firefighter engineerturned-acting captain battled many blazes in support of others. These days he's getting used to the community rallying around him for what has become the fight of his life — that of Stage 4 colon cancer.
“I'm doing pretty good,” the 38-year-old married father of three said on a recent day. “You have your good days and your bad days.”
Bell's family — Stefanie, his wife of 15 years and daughters, Rowan (10), Nova (7) and Lincoln (5) keep him grounded, he said, as they're his reason for being.
His firefighter family, he shared, also mean a lot to him.
“Fairfield's just been a different culture. It's very family friendly and everyone knows each other. We do so much outside of work. … It's just a big family-values vibe,” he said.
Bell gets at least 10 texts a day from his department, he added, from people just checking in. Which helps keep him positive. His diagnosis is, after all, serious, he explained, as it's his second bout of cancer.
In January 2021 he was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer. He underwent surgery and six months of chemotherapy. Last August, a biopsy of a tumor on his liver came back negative. A second biopsy, however, returned positive. Treatment includes another six months of chemo and his survival rate, at the high end, may be five years.
Undeterred, the family reached out to retired Vacaville police officer Walt Simon, who is also undergoing treatment for cancer, described as Stage 4 pancreatic cancer (www.gofundme.com/f/walt-simonsroad-to-recovery).Through Simon and his family, the Bells learned about spe
cialized treatments offered by the Integrative Cancer Center of America (www. integrativecancercenterofamerica.com) and decided to pursue them.
Treatment is expensive, but offers the family hope as any extra time with Bell will be a wish come true.
The firefighter said he's humbled by the outpouring from the community, and
ever so grateful for the GoFundMe started by a new friend, Dawn Milsaps, who also handled Simon's GoFundMe.
“It takes a huge burden off of us,” he said. “We're taking it one day at a time.”
Fairfield Fire Chief Matt Luckenbach said the department is pulling for Bell, whom they literally watched grow up.
“The department is in a bit of a funk right now,” he said. “Everybody loves Chris.”
There's meal trains and
check-ins to ensure the Bell family's focus remains on recovery and healing, the chief said, and anything else that's needed will be done.
“We love him and we have his back,” Luckenbach continued, adding that Bell is not alone during this crisis. “This isn't one person fighting a battle. It's a tribe of firefighters and their families.”
For more information or to donate, visit www.gofundme.com/f/chris-bellsjourney-to-heal.