Retired fire chief finds a care team he can count on

Richard "Smokey" Dyer

Richard Nothing may seem as insurmountable as a fire raging through a building or an explosion shaking a community. But longtime Kansas City, Missouri, Fire Department Chief Richard “Smokey” Dyer understands that other threats can be even more challenging. 

In 2002, Smokey confronted a very personal crisis when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The now-retired fire chief would rely on his work experience, his family and his cancer care team to make it through this journey. 

Smokey realized something was wrong when he developed painful, persistent sores on his gums. After months of appointments with different dental and medical professionals, he met with oncologist Mark Davidner, MD, at The University of Kansas Cancer Center – South

As a man who had calmly guided others through many crises, Smokey found it difficult to put himself in someone else’s hands. But he quickly came to appreciate the doctor’s confidence.

“That first day,” Smokey said, “I remember Dr. Davidner telling me that my cancer was not an interesting case because they had an effective protocol for treating this type of cancer. He said that’s what we want – a dull case.

“He had my trust at that moment,” Smokey said.

When his wife and daughter expressed concern that Smokey’s continued work with the fire department would further jeopardize his health, Smokey consulted with his physician. And again, he was impressed.

“Dr. Davidner knows the importance of a patient’s quality of life,” Smokey said. The doctor “felt it was important that I continue working. He always said he was not trying to save my life. He was trying to preserve it.”

Smokey’s chemotherapy regimen was tough – four hours a day, four days a week, two weeks off and then back to chemo again. This continued for several months. 

Despite the difficult schedule and side effects, the fire chief never missed a day of work. With the help of his cancer care team, he was able to bring his work with him. His nurses set up a mini work station in the infusion room. From here, Smokey used his phone and computer to keep the fire department and its 1,000 employees going strong.

Now in remission for 11 years, Smokey continues to see his cancer care team and Dr. Davidner for regular checkups. It’s a relationship that clearly works. 

Smokey said that throughout this journey, Dr. Davidner’s role can be compared to that of a fire department incident commander – the person in charge during an emergency situation.

“I never had to search for information about my cancer,” said Smokey. “Because Dr. Davidner proved to me that he had my best interests at heart and that he was in charge.” 


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