Chemainus Fire Department member Alex Meyer is not only a proud firefighter, but just a plain fighter who takes great pride in everything he does.
The last year has been a test of fortitude and willpower for Meyer, 31, after he was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma in March of 2020. COVID restrictions hit around the same time and it also turned out to be the month of his wedding to Ashley Pazarlis on March 29 in an incredible period of emotional ups and downs.
Alex’s cancer diagnosis seems like eons ago already to Ashley, 29, and it initially shocked them both, especially since “he prides himself on being really healthy and fit,” she said.
Despite regular chemotherapy treatments throughout the year, Alex said he’s “living the dream” when the Courier caught up to the courageous couple by phone while they were on a hike in the area.
The good news is Alex’s cancer is curable and they’ve maintained a positive attitude about the battle that’s been waged so far and what lies ahead.
Alex will be going to Vancouver in February for six weeks for a stem cell transplant. That, in itself, will be a challenge for the couple because they’ve seldom been apart since first getting together.
The Meyers have been fortunate to receive tremendous support from friends and family by long-distance means due to COVID. Ashley works for Mitchell Soup Co. in Duncan and Erin Lockhart, a friend and the boss’s wife, started a GoFundMe campaign for them that yielded more than $18,000.
“All of that’s been set aside so we can pay for medical expenses,” noted Ashley.
Ashley and Alex were both born in the east before coming together in the west the last five years.
Ashley was born in Toronto, but grew up in the Victoria area and spent time in Shawnigan Lake after meeting Alex. They’ve been in Chemainus a little more than three years.
Alex was born in Montreal, lived in Alberta till he was 10 and then eventually wound up on the Island in the Victoria area, graduating from Lambrick Park Secondary.
“Alex and I actually met online,” explained Ashley. “Neither of us were looking to date. We met each other one time and never stopped spending time together after that.”
Firefighting had always been in Alex’s mindset. While living in Shawnigan Lake, he applied to be part of the fire department there, but was still in school and working.
“I didn’t have time to be a fulltime member,” he conceded. “I had it in my back pocket since then.
“It’s kind of been a dream my whole life, but never made it into reality.”
Alex finally became a volunteer with the Chemainus department just under two years ago while also undergoing emergency medical technician training. “It had been a long time coming to get into the fire service,” he conceded.
“Alex loves helping people and is usually on the giving end,” noted Lockhart during the GoFundMe campaign start-up. “He loves the guys at the hall and found that working with them provided a sense of duty and pride going out into the community and doing what you can to help others.”
Ironically, joining the Chemainus department proved to be very important in Alex’s eventual diagnosis when testing was conducted on members at the hall. A lung test determined there was something wrong with his breathing.
“He failed it three times,” noted Ashley. “The lady administering the test said that’s really odd.”
He went for a scan that detected a lump sitting on his heart and lung area, and confirmed a Hodgkins lymphoma diagnosis on March 10.
“To be honest with you, it’s overwhelming,” Alex said. “Being a member of the Chemainus Fire Department, I can actually say it saved my life.”
Alex was told to cancel all activities in his life until doctors could set him on a course of treatment.
“It was devastating, absolutely,” he said. “You don’t really believe it because you’re in such good shape. I’ve never not been in shape.”
After getting engaged in Greece in 2018, Alex and Ashley had made arrangements for their marriage there two short months from that time so it was devastating news. They had already paid for the flights, hotels and other expenses and were forced to cancel the wedding of their dreams they’d been planning for two years.
In an odd twist, COVID hit a short time later and would have impacted their plans anyway.
There was no time like the present to proceed with their wedding in a different way and a commissioner came to their house to marry them in their living room last March 29.
Alex started six months of chemotherapy in April in Victoria for the first two appointments before switching to Duncan. The treatments took five to six hours at a time.
Due to COVID, Ashley couldn’t go in with him. “I remember sleeping in my car while waiting for him,” she indicated.
Alex went in for chemo about every 12 days for the first round until Sept. 15.
“It was up and down,” he pointed out. “I think I did quite a bit better than people were expecting. At first, it was rough for sure. Going into it as healthy as I was, it helped a lot.”
Alex was told beating it mentally was a big factor. “I had a better outlook than a lot of people had,” he conceded.
Ashley provided support in her accustomed manner that makes them such a great team.
“I’ve had friends that had cancer,” she pointed out. “When it’s close to home you know about it. I’m more of a hard ass and not as emotional. The more we stress and whine about it, the harder it’s going to be to stay on top of this.”
After the six months, Alex was prepped for radiation but it was decided not to go that route. His chemotherapy treatments commenced again in late November and finish on Jan. 18.
“The chemo I’m on now it can be worse, but it’s a shorter duration,” said Alex. “I’ve been tolerating it pretty good.”
At the end of January, he’ll be going to Vancouver with an approximate date of Feb. 17 for the stem cell transplant.
Alex will spend four weeks in hospital and two weeks as an outpatient, with Ashley anxiously awaiting his return at home.
“We basically do everything together,” she emphasized. “We are basically each other’s best friends. It’ll be strange not to have him home.”
Alex had his own company but had to quit working as his ordeal commenced and sold it to a former partner, but managed to complete a course for his Emergency Medical Responder requirements while doing chemotherapy that will provide him future employment opportunities.
“I’m meant to do that stuff,” reasoned Alex. “I’m a notorious helper. It’s just my calling in life.”
“I think honestly a lot of people would have had a hard time dealing with life,” assessed Ashley. “Now it puts into perspective what really matters. I’m taking care of him and working. Right now, we’re in a good spot.”