Nikiski firefighter Levi Doss may still be battling cancer, but his family and friends have shown that he has already come out a winner.
An 11-year-veteran of the Nikiski Fire Department who was forced to medically retire earlier this year, Doss has received thousands of dollars in donations from a GoFundMe account set up by his fellow firefighters.
In the first week of the page’s existence, the effort reached a quarter of its $100,000 goal.
As of Saturday, 131 contributors have raised nearly $27,000 for the Doss family.
“I wouldn’t wish this tumor on anyone,” wrote Doss in an email. “But I am glad to have known it. It has made so many positive changes in our lives. Completely outweighs the negatives.”
Jessica Smith and Harrison Deveer, two of the key organizers of the fundraising effort and GoFundMe page who have known Doss for about a decade, said the drive to help the family stems from the compassion and generosity the family has shared with the community for years. Tera Doss said fire chief James Baisden also played a big role in the fundraising effort.
Deveer described the family as very humble people who deserve the help.
“Levi is one of those guys that’s unique and you just kind of fall in love with,” he said. “He’s one of the most amazing people I’ve worked with. He’s had a huge impact on this place on people.”
“He was a huge part of why I fell in love with the department,” Smith added. “He’s just an amazing person who would do anything for anybody.”
Smith said she wants to run the fundraising effort as long as people are willing to support the family. She said any interested party wishing to help can donate at any Wells Fargo location by contributing to the Levi Doss donation fund. Smith said the station is also looking at hosting a fundraising event this winter, possibly in December, which would include a dinner and an auction.
A captain and paramedic with the NFD, Dos is currently receiving treatment in Tijuana, Mexico, and has previously received radiation and chemotherapy in Seattle, Washington, to help wipe out the cancer.
Doss wrote that during this difficult journey, he has been buoyed by two things — the community support and his faith in God.
“Along with having an incredibly strong wife and seven wonderful kids, I am surrounded by love,” Doss wrote. “My church family at Kenai New Life Assembly has been incredible. My work family has also been incredible. They put together a retirement party for me (during) which I cried for at least half of it. Tears of joy.”
It was Aug. 23, 2016, when Doss suffered his first seizure. Levi and Tera had a four-day family trip planned across Kachemak Bay near Homer.
Doss awoke feeling excited yet peaceful. Doss said normally he would be tied up in the logistics of the trip — getting the kids ready, organizing the cars, loading up the boat — but he had an odd sense of serenity about him, a peaceful feeling.
The drive down to Homer was punctuated by a lost wheel bearing on his truck as he was nearing the seaside town. Doss said he made the decision to stop by the hardware store for the necessary tools to replace it before meeting with his wife, who was waiting at the harbor with the rest of the family, but later described it as an odd decision. The family was waiting for him and he already owned the tools for the job in his boat.
“I remember being confused while looking at the bearing and calling my friend and mechanic at NFD,” Doss wrote. “Even though I have changed several in my life, I couldn’t figure it out.
“The next thing I knew, I was in the back of (an) HFD ambulance and them telling me that I had a seizure. I was even more confused.”
The episode effectively cancelled the trip while friends and coworkers of Doss met Tera and the kids in Homer to shuttle the cars and family members back up to Kenai. Doss himself was taken to South Peninsula Hospital in Homer where a CT scan revealed a mass in his brain.
“We didn’t see it coming,” Tera said. “He’d had headaches all his life, but didn’t know why, so there wasn’t anything too weird.”
Doss was quickly transported to Anchorage, where an MRI confirmed a brain tumor. It was there that Doss received surgery to remove the tumor, a procedure that also led to the temporary loss of feeling in his right arm.
“I woke up and squeezed my right hand and praised God,” Doss wrote. “They told me I was good to go and could get on with life.”
A year went by with minimal problems. Doss returned to light duty work and it seemed the problem went away.
Christmas Eve 2017 brought with it a return episode. The Doss’s were packing into the family suburban for a Christmas Eve church service, and minutes before leaving, Doss began feeling symptoms creep up on him swiftly.
As the seizure it set in on him, Doss worked quickly to prevent his children from being frightened by what they were about to see.
“I remember it starting and tried to apologize to my children,” Doss wrote.
He relapsed into what is known as a grand mal seizure, as his body lost all control and consciousness.
“I felt pretty bad that my kids had to see it,” he said.
Tera stayed by her husband’s side while family members showed up to aid her and take care of the kids. Tera said that while she was very much concerned with what was happening, the situation never became chaotic or disorderly, and she sprung into action as quick as she could.
“I think I’ve been blessed with the gift of calmness,” she said. “I think the worse moments of your life make your blood run cold, but at the same time we were able to function.”
The Christmas Eve seizure ultimately led to the bigger diagnosis of brain cancer, which hit home the hardest. Doss was forced to take on light duty operation at work, then had to make the decision to medically retire for good.
Levi said his grandfather also suffered brain cancer late in his life and passed away on Levi’s 11th birthday. Levi said his grandpa had a nearly identical scar on his head as Levi’s, and died just one year after his first seizure.
Doss said he recently emailed his grandmother about her late husband’s cancer, and she said that once it was made clear that radiation was the only solution following surgery, the family could only pray for Levi’s grandfather.
“She said, ‘The (doctor) said they would talk “cure” in radiation, but don’t believe them because the type of cancer he has, more would appear and they would NOT be able to do any more surgery’,” Doss wrote. “‘We KNEW that God was the only source of cure. So we put it ALL in God’s hands for His will to be done’.”
Doss continued receiving treatments in the Kenai community, but began to seek greater help outside Alaska. The Doss’s took a trip to Seattle last May so Levi could look at starting radiation therapy, but when the doctor informed them that the cancer had not spread further in the previous three months, Levi had the option of wait and see.
Two weeks ago, Doss said his doctor confirmed again that the tumor had not grown or spread.
Now, Doss is staying in Mexico for three weeks seeking alternative treatment.
At age 38, Doss said he and his wife — both lifelong Nikiski residents — are working to getting back to normal in a life changed by cancer, and the community support has left them grateful, even after both Levi and Tera pleaded with their friends to not go to the extra lengths of fundraising.
“It’s been ridiculous, it’s amazing,” Tera said. “None of us knew about the GoFundMe until the day after they did it, and finally they decided they’d do it anyways.