EDMOND — Edmond firefighter John Werhun was touched when he learned his co-workers and friends wanted to help his family if cancer wins a battle he has fought for nearly five years.
“It took me about an hour to stop the tears,” the 42-year-old father of two teenage daughters wrote in an email to Edmond dispatcher Andrew Martin after learning two weeks ago about fundraising efforts for his family.
Werhun, a 19-year Edmond firefighter, remained in hospice care Friday at home with his wife, Joyce, and his family.
“I have to say I have never been more comfortable and secure in the idea that my girls will be taken care of completely when I'm gone,” Werhun, 42, said in his email. “I wish I could stay for many more years and really get to know you all better, and to express how grateful I am for this.”
Werhun, a fire captain at Station 1, continued working after he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Surgeries, chemotherapy treatment and the disease didn't keep him off the job until the middle of last month.
“He would usually miss a day at a time, and as soon as he quit throwing up and could keep something down he would be back at work,” Battalion Chief Shawn Horn said. “The chemo was affecting his hands and feet. He would wear gloves and be working out to maintain his strength.
“He has been amazing. People around here would be upset about this or that and they would watch John and say they better keep their mouths shut.”
In 2009, Werhun and fellow firefighter Tim Vernon, who also has cancer, fought hard to secure workers' compensation benefits, claiming their cancers were job-related. The state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the firefighters.
Keeping families safe
Werhun was concerned about his family's future.
Dispatchers decided Werhun had helped keep their families and others in Edmond safe, so it was time to do something for him.
“I absolutely refuse to let John's last thoughts be ones that question if his family will be OK when he is gone,” Martin said. “Being a firefighter is a tough, selfless job requiring sacrifices every day.
“He has served us for years; it is time we return the favor.”
Dispatchers are taking pledges to help the Werhun family. They are asking people to offer to help the family whether it is mowing the yard, cooking a special meal or changing the oil in their cars. Martin has pledged to pay for a prom dress for one of Werhun's daughters.
“God has given us all special skills and abilities to make some sort of difference for them,” Martin said.
Dispatchers Jessica Brown and Jessica Spurgeon have joined Martin with other ways to raise money for the Werhun family. They are selling black and red bracelets for $3 or a donation. They also have set up The Werhun Family Fund, and donations can be made at any Citizens Bank. To help, email Andrew.firstname.lastname@example.org; Jessica.email@example.com or Jessica.firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We want to make sure John has a peace of mind that the community is taking care of his family,” Brown said.