Faces of Cancer: West Richland man doesn’t let rare cancer get in his way

Laryngeal cancer is a rare disease, with fewer than 12,500 people in the United States afflicted each year.

Ed Chapman of West Richland has a pretty good idea of how he acquired cancer of the larynx in 2005. He smoked and drank, was a firefighter and was a lead welder - all risk factors.

But it doesn't matter how he got it, just that he has been free and clear for more than five years.

Chapman, 67, grew up in Portland and worked for the forest service before getting into plumbing as a welder when he was 30.

At the same time, he worked as a firefighter. In those days, he and other firefighters didn't use gear to protect their lungs.

"We didn't consider it necessary," he said. "It wasn't smart, but that's what we did."

Often, he would come out of a fire with black smoke coming out of his nose and mouth, then he would sit down and smoke a cigarette.

In 1996, he moved to West Richland, where he was chief of Benton County Fire District 4 until 1999.

In July 2005, he was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer and underwent radiation twice a day for seven weeks.

His doctors thought they had caught it all, but by that December, it was stage 3. A month later, when his larynx was removed, it already had hit stage 4.

Today, Chapman talks through a hole in his throat. Because of that, he can't swim, but otherwise he doesn't let it get in his way.

"It's no different than a guy with a bad back," he said. "It's just part of my life, a bump in the road. I just keep on truckin'."