Retired volunteer firefighter battles cancer without insurance

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Resounding laughter filled Charlie Nieman’s Stanchfield living room Monday night as he played with his two Yorkies – Sammy and Scrappy. 

“Chase your tails, chase our tails, come on Sammy chase your tail!”

As he chuckled with his wife and daughter at his side, it was clear to see there are few things Nieman cherishes more on a bitterly cold night than quality time with his family.

Perhaps it’s because for three decades as a volunteer firefighter for the Dalbo Fire Department, Nieman ran into burning buildings on a moment’s notice. Now, at 64-years-old, Nieman is in the fight for his life against chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

“I liked the thrill, helping people,” he said of what he loved as a firefighter.

Nieman was diagnosed with CLL in January 2015. He started chemo for his cancer and continued to follow up with his oncologist at the Mayo in Rochester and take medications at home. In 2016 they discovered a mass in his lung.

In June 2017, the cancer forced him to retire early from his heavy hauler job.

“He lost his insurance and he’s been really sick since last fall,” said his daughter Jennifer Jameston. “He’s had bouts of pneumonia, bronchitis, losing weight.”

Scrambling to get Nieman the treatment he needs, his daughter launched a GoFundMe page for his medical care and to help make his one wish come true: a family vacation. 

“He’s my only dad, he can’t be replaced,” she said. “I just want to give him what he always wanted to do for us and couldn’t because he was working so hard to keep a roof over our head and take care of my mom.”

An Alabama family has already donated a destination.

“We have access to a 12-bedroom cabin, there are boats and jet skis and we can bring him fishing and give him this vacation,” Jameston said.

Nieman’s dream is to drive to a destination and see the beauty and landmarks along the way. Now, it's just a matter of getting everyone there safely.

“We need to try to figure out how to get an RV that works with her wheelchair. We don’t know how long we have with him,” she said. “In between working and being a volunteer fireman for 32 years, he gave to everybody else and we need to give to him.” 

Jameston has also organized a benefit for her dad. The benefit takes place April 27th starting at noon at Chapala Mexican Restaurant in Cambridge, Minn. A percentage of all food and alcohol sales that day will be donated to Nieman. For more information, contact FireFighterCharlieBenefit@gmail.com or message the "Firefighter Charlie" Facebook page.