HANFORD — In mid-November, Kings County firefighter Keith Hernandez said he developed a dry cough. Though the cough didn’t go away after a few weeks and gradually worsened, Hernandez and his wife didn’t think much of it.
At the request of his wife, Crystal, Hernandez said he finally went to the doctor. At first, he said doctors thought he just had a cold, but when he didn’t get better doctors ordered he get a chest X-ray to check for pneumonia.
When doctors called Hernandez to tell him that his lungs had problems, he said he and his wife still didn’t think the outcome would be bad.
After more tests, doctors discovered a tumor in the 29-year-old firefighter’s lungs.
Hernandez was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft tissue cancer that has caused tumors to develop in his lungs.
He is currently undergoing chemotherapy and knows there is a long road ahead, but said the family has a plan and keeps a positive outlook. He believes he will recover fully.
The couple has two children, a 3-year-old daughter named Henley and a 4-week-old son named Harper. They travel to Stanford so Hernandez can see a cancer specialist.
“It is hard; there are good days and bad days,” Hernandez said. “But — we haven’t really told anybody — we just got some good news yesterday that the chemo is working.”
Hernandez was born and raised in Clovis. He knew pretty early on that he wanted to be some type of first responder and participated in several Explorer programs before becoming a firefighter.
He said he was hired by Kings County Fire Department in 2013, where he is currently a fire apparatus engineer at Station 6, which is located at 7735 21st Ave. in Lemoore.
Hernandez said the firefighter life appealed to him because he wanted to not only help people, but be community minded and interact with people, talk with them and let them know the firefighters will always be there.
“We’re here for them,” Hernandez said. “I think that’s one of the best things in our job is to just be a presence.”
The diagnosis came as a shock, but he said his entire family, including his parents, siblings and “fire family” have been extremely supportive.
Fire departments near and far, including Hanford, Visalia and Fresno have been helping the Hernandez family, and Hernandez said he couldn’t be more grateful. Along with several fundraisers, firefighters even show up at the Hernandez home to help with yardwork.
“Everybody has been really good to me and really good to my family,” Hernandez said. “That’s been amazing and overwhelming for us and we appreciate it.”
Helping the Hernandez family has been a group effort spearheaded in part by Visalia firefighter Ryan Hetzler and Rick Levy from the Kings County Local 3747 firefighters union.
Hetzler started a Go Fund Me page for Hernandez, while Levy and the firefighters union started a fundraising account and are currently selling “challenge coins” to raise money.
Levy said everybody rallying behind Hernandez took him by surprise and said it was “unlike anything” he has ever experienced.
Hernandez agreed, saying the camaraderie he’s witnessed is “amazing” and said it was overwhelming to see people come together for his family in this time of need. He said he knows not everyone has a support system like they have had.
“We are very grateful to have this support,” Hernandez said. “It’s not just friends and family, there are strangers that have messaged us and just want to give their support.”
Crystal Hernandez said people have been calling or texting her offering any help they can give.
“It’s been amazing support from everywhere,” Crystal Hernandez said.
The support hasn’t just been for Hernandez; next week Crystal Hernandez will be the recipient of Helping One Woman fundraising event in Visalia in support of everything she has done to help her husband.
“I’m happy that she’s getting that recognition because at home I’m not fighting this alone. She’s there with me every day,” Hernandez said.
The couple has been together nearly 10 years and will celebrate their five-year wedding anniversary soon.
“He’s a very strong man,” Crystal Hernandez said of her husband. “He’s amazing.”
One of Hernandez’s goals for the future is to raise awareness for and promote early cancer detection by starting a Central valley foundation that hosts an annual event and possibly helps pay for medical costs associated with testing.
Hernandez said firefighters always get thanked when they go to fires, so now it’s his turn to thank those people who have helped him.
“The support has been something that’s really helped me on my bad days during treatment by just knowing that there are people there that care,” Hernandez said. “There are times when I don’t feel deserving of this, but I’m eternally grateful.”
One bright spot in this whole ordeal for Hernandez is the time he has been able to spend with his family.
“I’ve always enjoyed family but it’s been a push to count my blessings,” Hernandez said. “It made me realize exactly what was important in my life.”