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'They’ve always been family': Firefighter returns to work after battling leukemia

When she got to tell her fellow firefighters about her return, they teared up a bit and met her with cheers and applause. Then, she immediately got back to work helping them polish the trucks.

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Even after nearly two years away, Alex Blair still knows her way around the Cambridge Fire Department. As she walks around, she points out parts of the trucks, noting what they're made out of and why some are fancier than others.

Blair joined the volunteer crew in Vermont when she was 16, following in her father's and brother's footsteps.

"They’ve always been family," she said. "They stuck by my side for everything. They were always there."

Blair's not just talking about helping each other at emergency calls. Since being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in October 2018, her fire family has stuck with her every step of the way. When Blair thought she was in remission and learned she'd have to get more chemo treatments, they continued to visit, call and write to her.

The fire trucks now shine with stickers of an orange ribbon, representing leukemia awareness and their support for Blair through her recovery.

"This whole place has supported me through this entire thing," she said. "It’s been crazy. I can’t thank anybody enough for the things that they’ve done for me."

About a year after her initial diagnosis, Blair got a cord blood transplant. Since it's taken hold, she jokes that she doesn't have any cells of her own anymore. Having healthy cells also means she gets to tell her fire captain the good news.

"I said, 'I have a question and some news,'" Blair said, recalling the interaction. "'Can I come back? I’m cleared.'"

When she got to tell her fellow firefighters at the end of June, Blair said they teared up a bit, meeting her with cheers and applause. Then, she immediately got back to work helping them polish the trucks.

Blair said she feels different going out on calls now, showing up to house fires and car crashes.

"I kinda have the mindset now of what these people are going through," she said. "It's like a new perspective. I know what it’s like to trust somebody else that you don’t know with your life. I did that with many doctors I had met for the first time."

Blair is also returning to work in the middle of a pandemic, causing some concern for someone whose immune system has been wiped out by chemotherapy treatments.

"It’s definitely scary, but it’s at the point where I’ve got to do something," she said. "I do everything with as much caution as I think needs to be taken."

COVID-19 precautions are "through the roof," according to Blair. She said they wipe everything down constantly and take wearing masks and social distancing seriously, which makes her feel more comfortable.