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TOTALLY EAST TEXAS: Henderson Fire Dept. gives back through cancer fund

When someone is hurting in Henderson, neighbors respond. One group leading the way is the Henderson Fire Dept. who are trying to ease the burden on cancer patients.

HENDERSON, Texas — You expect firefighters to run into burning buildings to save someone, but battling fires is not the only battle Henderson firefighters are taking on.

"Everybody has been affected by cancer," said Henderson Fire Department Capt. Lance Ellis. "Whether it's been loved ones that you've had, you know, that's had it or friends or whatever, everybody's pretty close to it. So it means a lot to us to be able to give back to somebody else."

This commitment to helping people in the Rusk County community fight cancer began more than a decade ago with a breast cancer initiative. Firefighters sell pink shirts, host cookouts, accept donations from local businesses and partner with restaurants where a portion of the proceeds go to the cancer fund. Firefighters are still painting the town pink, but they're also trying to ease the financial burden for their neighbors fighting other cancers.

"We started about 15 years ago. We've helped young children to older adults, and anywhere in between. I think they all touch you. You you remember in some way and it stays with you," said Deputy Fire Chief Sonny Ybarra.

One of those people, Addison Graham, just a teenager when she was diagnosed with leukemia. 

"When we found out that Addi had cancer, you know, as a as a friend and family, you want to take that away," said Elizabeth Tyson, a family friend. "So what we did was just anything that we could do to take stress off of Mallory, you know, to run an errand or clean to take a little bit of that stress off, because we know we can't make it go away. But we can make it easier on her." 

Addi's still undergoing treatment, but her mom Mallory's family and friends told us what the community's support, especially the fire department means to the family and others like them.

"The firefighters show up. We did a huge fundraiser in January and for Addi and they showed up all day, lifting and moving things for us delivering burgers, and just being there. And they're a huge support for our community not only in keeping us safe in times where we need firefighters, but also in those those fundraiser times and they've helped. I can think off the top of my head, you know, families of our family and friends. You know, besides Addi, that they've helped in Rusk County, it's an amazing blessing to have them here," said Tyson.

Back in March, the fire department donated two blankets to Addi while she undergoes chemo — one of which is made up of past 'Paint the Town Pink' t-shirts, along with $750 from their cancer fund. 

"We give donations to them and how they use it, whether it's food gas, help pay the bills, stay somewhere, you know, if they have to make an overnight trip. It's up to them on how they use the funds," Ybarra said.

Henderson firefighters have already helped dozens upon dozens of families and they'll be supporting cancer patients in their hometown as long as they're needed.

"I've had family members that you know, have had cancer, and it's tough, you know? No, it won't provide all of the help that they need. But they'll know that we're standing there fighting for them and it means a lot to us, it means a lot to the guys, I mean, this is kind of a big deal for us to be able to help them," Ellis said.

Families in Rusk County who are battling cancer can apply for financial assistance. Just contact the Central Fire Station at 903-392-0651.