‘Pink Heals’ firemen spread hope to cancer survivor, widow of fallen fire chief

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KALAMAZOO COUNTY, Mich. — When Izzy Cherrone heard sirens roaring down Centre Avenue, she didn’t think much of it. However when she saw a pink fire truck pull into the driveway of her job, she knew something was up. Within seconds, three people with the Pink Heals organization jumped out and greeted her.

“You expect your family and your loved ones to be there to support you and encourage you,” said Cherrone during an interview.  “But when you’ve got complete strangers who drive across the United States show up and give you a hug, hugs heal.”

Volunteer fire truck driver Justin Cook and two others immediately hugged Cherrone before she walked out of the assisted living center where she works. She’s beat cancer twice after first being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995. Then in 2001, she was diagnosed and beat thyroid cancer.

“This is my third time battling cancer this year,” said Cherrone. “I said all these years that I’ve been supporting and encouraging somebody else, it’s really nice to have somebody do it for you.”

Cook said the Pink Heals Tour — an organization founded by firemen to show support to people fighting cancer and other illnesses — began this year's tour back in June in Jacksonville, Fla. They traveled the country making a few stops in West Michigan this month. Along the way they were told about Cherrone’s story and they said to themselves they had to meet her.

“It was phenomenal to visit with Miss Izzy,” said Cook. “For us, Pink Heals, to be able to come to her and say that we love you, we stand behind you, that’s unlike any other feeling.”

During their tour through the state, they were also told about fallen Fire Chief Ed Switalski. He was killed earlier this summer while on duty one night tending to a crash on I-94. Cook said his story hit home for them.

“I’ve heard a lot of stories," said Cook.  "It's very heartwarming to know that we’re going to have the opportunity to visit with the family of one of our fallen brothers."

After surprising Cherrone — who was quickly surrounded by several schoolchildren from a nearby daycare who knew about the surprise — they traveled to Bronson Children’s Hospital in Kalamazoo and met with the kids there. They ended their tour with a special ceremony, sirens and all, at FireHouse Subs on Drake Rd for Chief Switalski.

"It's been hell, I'll tell you that right now," said Chief Switalski's wife Holly who was given flowers at the ceremony. "What's gotten me through and kept me strong has been the amount of support and love and outpouring from so many people."

Kalamazoo Shooting survivor Tiana Carruthers was there as well and was given a bouquet a flowers by the group. She and Holly wrote messages of hope on the fire engine, just as Cherrone did. The messages, hundreds of them, will remain on the bus until the tour ends in November, Cook said.

“Three times the battle, three times the victories,” said Cheronne reciting the message she wrote. “Celebrate everyday.”

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