Polk County Fire Rescue public information officer, ‘cancer warrior’ dies at 38

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POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A Polk County official is remembered as a loving husband, father and strong advocate for Polk County Fire Rescue and cancer survivors.

Chris Jonckheer, 38, died Aug. 13 after a years-long battle with stage four colorectal cancer.

He served as public information officer for Polk County Fire Rescue since 2018.

“He helped comfort and assist the victims of tragic fires; aided coworkers afflicted with cancer and brought a smile to those he worked around on a daily basis. He will be missed but never forgotten,” wrote Polk Fire Rescue Chief Robert Weech in a statement.

Chief Weech joined family, friends, coworkers and community members to remember Jonckheer at a memorial service in Winter Haven Monday.

Chief Weech referred to Jonckheer as a “cancer warrior.”

While maintaining a positive outlook on life and a dedication to public service, Jonckheer was always eager to spread the word about the illness that would ultimately take his life.

“If you ever need anything cancer-related or colon cancer-related, I’m all about helping to bring awareness so feel free to contact me,” read the last text Jonckheer sent to 8 On Your Side reporter Staci DaSilva.

Colon and rectum cancers are the second leading causes of cancer deaths among men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Early screening is key,” said Dr. Joffre Rivera, a gastroenterologist with Watson Clinic.

These kinds of cancers, Rivera said, are affecting people at a younger age.

“We are seeing younger individuals, certainly males, as well as females, are starting to have symptomatology and colon cancer at an earlier age,” he said.

Leading medical groups, including the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, have lowered the recommended age to start colon cancer screenings to 45, even younger if there is a family history.

Experts advise patients to call a doctor if they notice the warning signs.

“Any patient who started noticing changes on his bowel habits, any patient who starts having blood in the stools, those are early warning signs that something is changing in their colon,” Rivera said.

A GoFundMe has been set up to help Jonckheer’s family: https://www.gofundme.com/f/Help-Chris-Susan-and-sianna.

For more information, visit the following resources:

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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