Gage Roper 1286 — Roper named honorary firefighter

Published 1:05 pm Thursday, February 29, 2024

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By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

Eight-year-old Gage Roper was recognized by the West Chilton Fire Department on Feb. 26 as an honorary firefighter. Firefighter 1286, the title Gage now holds at the station, is a hero living with cancer, and is making the most of his time here on earth.

Gage received a fire station shirt, firefighter patches, a plaque with his number on it, a trophy and other gifts from the WCFD and other fire departments. He was also named the first recipient of the Junior Firefighter of the Year Award by the Chilton County Firefighters Association, which will be a yearly award given to a youth in the community.

“I have known him for a while,” Susie Smith, Fire Chief at West Chilton Fire Department, said. “I have a special bond with him … We chose to make him an honorary firefighter because his family had been in the fire department before, and I felt like it was something right for him. They have always been a part of my family.”

Gage was born in 2016 at 24 weeks and weighed under two pounds at birth. His grandmother, Rhonda Roper, received custody of Gage and his siblings when he was two years old, and she officially adopted him in August 2019. Five days after Gage had been officially adopted, he woke up and could not walk, and he was screaming in pain.

Gage went to the pediatrician and they felt something in his abdomen, and he was sent to Children’s of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham for tests. While there and before turning three years old, Gage was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma, a cancer in infants and young children that starts in very early forms of nerve cells when the baby is still in the mother’s womb.

Gage started treatments quickly after the diagnosis and began with eight rounds of chemotherapy after the original plan of six rounds did not bring the cancer numbers down enough. After that, he received two stem cell transplants, 13 rounds of additional radiation and took chemotherapy pills at home for two years, but the cancer was still aggressive.

“The neuroblastoma likes to hide, and the doctors always say ‘If it comes back, there is no cure,’” Rhonda said. “I did not want him to be stuck in the hospital when he could be on vacation, playing with his brothers, going to school or riding his horse.”

When Gage was told his cancer was continuing, he did not want to go back to the hospital. His doctors said treatment would be something to try to knock the cancer back, but nothing would cure it. Rhonda and the Roper family made the decision to not have Gage go through the non-stop treatments anymore, but rather live each day with him and make sure his time each day is well spent.

“It is amazing because Gage has always been a hero, as well as other little kids battling cancer,” Rhonda said. “They said they would try to buy him more time, but my faith tells me that you cannot buy time, and you have a certain amount of time. We chose, going by Gage, not wanting to be in the hospital no more, no more sticks, no more being isolated from his family. We chose to live every day that God has given him, and count each blessing.”

During the interview with Rhonda following the ceremony to name Gage an honorary firefighter at WCFD on Feb. 26, the eight-year-old boy came running over to the table.

“I am telling him about how much of a hero you are,” Rhonda said.

“I know,” Gage replied gleefully.

Gage has gotten opportunities such as going deep-sea fishing, going hunting and killing a 29-point buck and receiving a golf cart from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, as well as the honor on Feb 26. The Cedar Grove and Verbena fire departments both brought trucks out to the event, and Gage was able to use the water hose and other equipment on the fire trucks.

Rhonda said Gage’s strength, determination and will to live are things that she sees every day. One minute he is down, but the second Gage is feeling better, he is back going again. True signs of a warrior, and a hero.

“When everybody sees Gage, they see somebody dying with cancer,” Rhonda said. “I see somebody living with cancer, and he is living the best life he can and that is what I want for him. I want him to have every moment possible, for him. (To be named an honorary firefighter), it means everything. Cancer will not take my child, and he may have cancer when he leaves this world, but cancer will not take my child. God has the beginning and the end, and my kid will receive a total healing if not here, then in heaven. We all know that there is a time, and we do not know when that time is, but we are going to live it to the very end.”