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Woman firefighter inspires change in health coverage for breast cancer after hers was denied

Despite knowing that she wouldn't benefit from the change in coverage, she fought to make sure other firefighters with breast cancer would receive benefits.

Woman firefighter inspires change in health coverage for breast cancer after hers was denied
Cover Image Source: Getty Images (representative)

All Colorado firefighters who are diagnosed with breast cancer will now receive benefits from the Colorado Firefighter Heart and Cancer Benefits (CFHCB) Trust, thanks to the efforts of a Westminster fire lieutenant who fought for change. 45-year-old Tracy Post was diagnosed with stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma — a type of breast cancer that forms in the milk duct of a breast and can invade into the surrounding breast tissue — in November 2019. However, as the 45-year-old began her treatment, she learned that breast cancer was not one of the five types of cancer covered under the CFHCB Trust.


Post, who has worked for the fire department since 2013, had to pay out of her own pocket for the double mastectomy and four rounds of chemotherapy she underwent to treat her cancer, as well as breast reconstruction. Although she appealed to the board of trustees twice for coverage, her appeals were denied. "I have health insurance through the city but it’s still incredibly expensive," Post told Good Morning America. "My percentage [of costs] was in the tens of thousands of dollars." Moreover, since breast cancer was not recognized by the trust as a job-related cancer, she was forced to return to work even while undergoing chemotherapy treatments so as not to go on short-term disability and have her pay decreased.


However, Post was understanding of the trust's initial ruling to not include breast cancer as one of the five cancers it covers. "I didn't hold any malice towards that. Their hands are tied by legality. I know every single member of that board would have helped me if they could have," she told 9News. The trust was formed in 2017 to help firefighters with medical bills and time off while battling cancer, providing them an alternative to having to rely on the presumptive cancer law for coverage. "[The law] caused a lot of heartache between municipalities, districts, and firefighters. So, if you came down with cancer, you ended up having to sue your place of employment for protections," Fire Lieutenant and Westminster Fire Union President Ronnie Taylor explained.


The CFHCB trust covered the five most predominant cancers among firefighters: hematologic cancer, brain cancer, skin cancer, genital urinary cancer, and digestive cancer. "I've always been told, it's not a matter of if you get cancer as a firefighter, but when. I don't think there's any firefighter in the state of Colorado or in the nation that would tell you that they're 100% not worried about ever developing some kind of cancer. That's why we have presumptive cancer laws. That's why we have the heart and cancer trust," said Post. "When the trust was created, they had the best intentions in place for trying to cover the most cancers they could at that point in time, and at that point in time, the five cancer systems that they covered were the most prevalent cancer systems."


"However, the data pool that they pulled that statistic from was 97% male. Breast cancer is not typically considered a male disease and a 3% population is not going to provide staggering statistical data for coverage," she added. "You have to appreciate [the ruling] because they are trying to maintaining the trust and be financially responsible for the good of all firefighters. I wanted to prove to them that adding breast cancer, aside from being the right thing to do and being justified, was also not going to financially exhaust the trust itself." Determined to level the playing field, Post spent "every waking moment" in the midst of her treatment putting together a presentation to compel the trust to add breast cancer coverage. The fact that she would not benefit from a change in the trust's coverage did not stop her.


"I just wanted to make sure that the ladies I work with get the benefit if one of them happens to get breast cancer down the road," she said. "Or somebody else who is a firefighter because she loves helping people and it’s the right thing to do for her community, I want to make sure that she knows that her back is covered if something goes wrong down the line." The amount of work Post put in to the effort to enact change eventually got through to members of the board of trustees. "Tracy was tenacious," said Mike Frainier, president of the Colorado Professional Fire Fighters and chair of the CFHCB Trust's board of trustees. "She knew that if it did get approved she wouldn't benefit from it, and she kept fighting."


In August 2020, the board voted unanimously to approve adding breast cancer to the trust's cancer coverage and the provision went into effect on January 1. "I just wept. The tears ran down my face," Post recalled. "I've never had so much hope and gratitude and thankfulness at one moment at any time in my life. It was so wonderful. I'm so thankful because not a single person on the trust didn't not want to support the women of Colorado. Not a single one said that this isn't the right thing to do. To me, it's 2021, and [female firefighters] are still a small percentage, but we're still a percentage. I just really hope that the laws catch up to the times and that they realize and recognize that women are members of the population and that breast cancer is not just a women's disease, that it's a firefighters' disease."

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