SEARSPORT — Searsport Firefighter Jeramy Ward has been battling colon cancer since 2020 when he was diagnosed with stage four rectal cancer, which had metastasized to his liver, he said in an email to The Republican Journal. Because of the disease he has racked up more than $20,000 in medical debt. 

Ward only received the diagnosis July 14, 2020, after his doctor suggested he get a colonoscopy at a routine appointment, he said. He was shocked to learn what the procedure found. Since then, he compares the whole experience to being on a roller coaster. 

The incurable disease is treated as it crops up, he said. He has gone through several weeks of chemotherapy and radiation over the last couple of years. Since his diagnosis, doctors have removed tumors in his rectum and liver, removing the left and right sides of his liver. 

In May, doctors found a mass in his right lung, which he has just completed targeted radiation for, he said. He has to wait three months to know if the radiation worked. 

“It’s an incurable cancer,” he said. “They are just treating the spots as they come and hoping for the best.” 

Receiving his diagnosis at 39, he was much younger than the recommended age to start getting screened for colon cancer, which is 50, he said. His rectal surgeon told him that doctors are seeing an increase in younger people developing this type of cancer. 

Though there has been a steady decrease from 1999 to 2019 in the rate of people being diagnosed and dying with the disease, 36.2 out of 100,000 people in Maine were diagnosed with colon and rectal cancer in 2019, according to the United States Center for Disease Prevention and Control website. It isc the fourth most common type of cancer diagnosis among those who developed the disease. 

During that same year, the death rate in the state for that type of cancer was 12.6 out of 100,000 people, according to the CDC’s website, making it the state’s fifth most deadly type of cancer. 

All of the pertinent medical procedures and appointments to treat his cancer left Ward with overdue medical bills amounting to about $22,000, which neither Mainecare nor his other insurances cover, he said. 

For several months after his diagnosis he had no income, he said. He had to wait six months before he could get disability. His cousin Kelli Bucklin said in an email to The Republican Journal that neither of Ward’s medical insurance carriers will cover the expenses.

“Both continue to pass it off as the other’s responsibility,” she said. “In the meantime, Jeramy hasn’t been able to work for three years, leaving his wife Misty as the sole provider.” 

The disability he collects is only a fraction of what he made as a firefighter and tow truck driver, she said. She wonders if he can limit his stress, to help with his healing, when he is also concerned about his family’s finances. 

It is one of the reasons why she is planning a benefit at Bowen’s Tavern Saturday, July 23, along with Mobile Entertainment Solutions owner Holly Parker and Bowen’s Tavern co-owner Bridget Bowen, she said. Parker and Bowen were “all in” when she asked them to donate their services. 

Bucklin grew up with Ward as a part of her daily life, she said. He was always active and healthy, which makes the diagnosis even more shocking to her. She said the family might have lost him without warning had the doctor not suggested the colonoscopy. 

Ward has spent his life as a very quiet but kind man, she said, describing him as a well-liked, family and community-oriented person. He has fought for several years and beaten the disease twice and she hopes she can say that he has beaten it again.

Jeramy Ward holds his puppy named Monkey. Courtesy of Kelli Bucklin

She has seen in him a determination to fight and live, she said. Despite his exhaustion, he tries to make the most of each day and he tries to maintain a sense of continuity for his family while making the best memories possible. 

“I want people to know who Jeramy is,” she said. “That he matters and his struggle matters. And more so, I want Jeramy to know how much he matters to all of us.” 

She and several other family members are planning to raffle off donated items, along with holding a 50/50 raffle from ticket sales at the door during the benefit, she said. So far, local businesses have donated items worth roughly $2,400, collectively, to the raffle. 

People can also make donations at the door, she said. She encourages people to stop by the tavern between 7 and 10 p.m. They can buy dinner, enjoy karaoke and help raise money for Ward. All of the funds raised at the event will go toward Ward’s medical, travel, lodging and living expenses.