Crimefighters Combatting Cancer

Crimefighters Combatting Cancer

By Stephen Owsinski

As we navigate the calendar month of October, Breast Cancer Awareness campaigns draw attention to the bravery exhibited by women who found themselves in that battle, surviving to talk about their personal experiences. Some of the cancer survivors are crimefighting law enforcement officers…

One example comes to us from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) in Tampa, Florida. One of their spokespersons posted the following on October 5, 2023:

“Deputy Sarah Kirk was in the best shape of her life when she received the devasting news: she had breast cancer. A competitive boxer, Deputy Kirk noticed a lump after a match and knew something was off. At just 26, she turned to her family and colleagues here at HCSO for support.

“We’re glad to say she finished her chemotherapy one year ago today. One month ago, she returned to the streets, patrolling near [the University of South Florida] in HCSO’s District One.”

In District One is Moffitt Cancer Center, a world-class hospital noted by the National Cancer Institute whose purpose is to certify levels of “expertise” in cancer-care facilities. (It’s been my second home for almost two decades.)

Deputy Kirk told us, “I was in the best shape of my life. I was 26 years old. I had just won my first amateur kickboxing fight. Was killing it at my job here [at the sheriff’s office]. Was loving it. And…it just kind of took the wind out of my sails. It was…it was devastating.

(Photo courtesy of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.)

“I went through about a full year of different chemotherapy drugs. I’ve had five surgeries in the last year. I never really doubted I couldn’t do it. From the start, my doctors kinda told me, ‘You know…you’re not going to die. But this is really going to suck!’

“And so, that was really kind of my mindset. I was like, I’m just going to put my head down and I’m going to get through it.”

Get through it, she did. Back in uniform and extending gratitude galore, Deputy Kirk embraces the support system that held her up through it all.

“Other than my family and my boyfriend, Brian, the other real support system that I had was the sheriff’s office. District One is my family. They took such incredible care of me. Anything I needed…they were there. You don’t really think about how many people you have in your corner until you go through something like this.”

Indeed. I’ve been there, as a cop, dealing with the dynamics of cancer. Although it ultimately concluded my police career, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve citizens and survive cancer woes. The unsolicited provisions from the entire police force gave me many moments/reasons to pause and consider the law enforcement family, rendering me deeply grateful for the myriad dividends provided by men and women whose lives were dedicated to assisting others. They sure did that duty and beyond.

Speaking of being grateful, Deputy Kirk’s gratitude was not only for people in her sphere of support but also for the job she swore to do…

Once again patrolling the streets, she says with evident pride: “It’s awesome to see that we’re making a difference. To see that we’re helping people. To see that people trust us and rely on us. It feels incredible, especially living in a community that I work in.”

We can be certain Deputy Kirk’s colleagues are elated to have her back (in more ways than one) and her reciprocating, especially after all the efforts rendered toward her survivorship and robust return to duty.

Pink Patch Project

Just as there are many examples akin to Deputy Kirk’s cancer journey, law enforcement agencies and their police officers, deputies, and troopers display solidarity and support by brandishing pink patches and badges symbolizing Breast Cancer Awareness Month, honoring crimefighting colleagues who are in the cancer fight and commemorating those who fought valiantly.

The public safety pros at the Irvine Police Department posted sentiments honoring and remembering “everyone affected by this disease,” while also thanking “organizations working to find a cure.”

(Photo courtesy of the Irvine Police Department.)

Executives leading the men and women of the Irvine police force authorized donning specially embroidered shoulder patches, honoring the annual October tradition known as the “Pink Patch Project.”

According to Irvine PD, cops at the Seal Beach Police Department launched their Pink Patch Project in 2013, not only to display support but to also raise funds for a law enforcement foundation centered on cops with cancer. And it was adopted by many other police entities.

(Photo courtesy of the Seal Beach Police Department.)

“Throughout the month of October, you will see the men and women of the Seal Beach Police Department displaying pink patches on their uniforms in support of those we have lost, survivors, and those who are still fighting. The patches are available for sale to the public for $10 each. Portions of the proceeds from the sale of patches will be donated to the National Law Enforcement Cancer Support Foundation.”

A volunteer-driven 501(c) (3) non-profit organization, the National Law Enforcement Cancer Support Foundation comprises law enforcement officers “who have gone through a cancer journey” and “provide free emotional support, guidance, and resources to anyone in the law enforcement family affected by cancer,” all aggregate donations of which go “directly into the hands of our brave men and women battling cancer.”

Badges Honoring Cops with Breast Cancer

In concepts similar to the purpose behind the Pink Patch Project, law enforcement agencies also authorize their sworn staff to pin pink police badges to their agency uniforms, displaying support for cops with cancer.

“To honor survivors and remember those lost to this disease,” members of the Fort Myers Police Department wear pink badges on their police-blue uniforms.

(Photo courtesy of the Fort Myers Police Department.)

Much like Autism Awareness Month and other month-long recognitions, some law enforcement entities have select police cruisers wrapped with iconic patterns and/or colors emblematic of whatever awareness campaign it is. These specially marked police cars rove the jurisdiction, ordinarily assigned to cops with the department’s Community Affairs Bureau (or other unit designations with the same purpose).

Administrators at the Orlando Police Department took it to the limits by assigning one of their cancer-surviving police officers a pink cruiser for patrol purposes. One can imagine how many occasions she shared her story of courage and victory.

(Photo courtesy of the Orlando Police Department.)

To demonstrate the agency’s support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and to honor one of their own who fought valiantly and beat it to return to duty, the police brass leading the Orlando Police Department presented Officer Karen Long with a pink patrol car.

As mentioned a few times above and highlighted by Deputy Kirk, the law enforcement family is tightly woven together to fight society’s woes and help colleagues through personal trials and tribulations.