Local firefighter fearlessly fights cancer foe

BASS LAKE - As a volunteer firefighter for 26 years for the Bass Lake Fire Department, Phil Banasiak is used to saving people’s lives. Fighting for his own life, on the other hand, is not something he is familiar with. On Saturday, Sept. 10, Banasiak felt fine; he worked all day, went out to dinner, came home, and fell asleep on the couch — but when he woke up Sunday morning, he was stunned to discover he was paralyzed from the waist down.
“It’s a kind of shock. How many people do you know that went to sleep on Saturday and woke up and couldn’t walk on Sunday?” Banasiak said.
Banasiak had no indication that something was seriously wrong. He had been suffering from what he thought to be a backache for a few weeks, but he didn’t feel sick and wasn’t showing any symptoms that would make him think something was off. He was taken to IU Starke Hospital in Knox and was soon flown to South Bend Memorial. There, tests were performed and he learned that doctors had found tumors on his spine and several other places in his body, causing the paralysis. He was diagnosed with complications from prostate cancer.
“Their first goal is to get me so I can use my legs again, so that’s what they are treating first: the tumors that are squeezing my spine,” said Banasiak.
While performing his duties as a firefighter, Banasiak has been responsible for many people being taken to the hospital. Though he turns 58 in December, Banasiak says he has never been sick a day in his life and has never needed to be treated at a hospital. While being airlifted to South Bend, he realized he’d spent a lot of time putting people in these medical helicopters, but never expected to need to be airlifted himself.
“I never realized I’d be one to go anywhere in the helicopter, I’ve just always put people in them. I never really thought I’d get in one myself. It’s a whole different ballgame, but, life changes,” Banasiak said. “It’s really strange being on the inside when I’m always on the outside. I’ve put a lot of people in the helicopter but never myself.”
Thankfully, Banasiak is not going through this alone. With a network of family and friends, he has the love and support of those who care about him. His daughter, who currently lives in Seattle, has stayed with Banasiak for three weeks and helps as much as she can.
“She’s been here taking care of things for me every day. She takes care of the paperwork and makes sure I’m okay,” said Banasiak. “My family and friends have been wonderful. I’ve had several visitors, several phone contacts, family and friends, and my daughter has taken the time out of her life to stay with me for three weeks.”
This experience has completely changed the way Banasiak looks at his life. He knows that he will never be cancer free, but he has been given hope that he’ll be able to get back, mostly, to his normal routine. He currently undergoes physical therapy for four hours a day, trying to relearn how to use his legs and walk again.
“It’s made me learn to appreciate it. It’s changed my entire life,” said Banasiak. “I’m going to try to finish up my radiation and get back home, and then I’ll be on outpatient basis for any radiation or physical therapy I have to take.”
Unfortunately, Banasiak expects his outpatient treatment to run up a hefty bill, so a benefit for Banasiak is being held at the Bass Lake Sandbar Saturday, Oct. 1. from 7 to 10 p.m. to help cover some of the costs. Banasiak still has to undergo more radiation treatment as well as his physical therapy, and when he gets home, he’ll need railings and other special equipment. These expenses can get extremely expensive, and Banasiak hopes his benefit event will help cover some of that cost.
Having saved lives on a near-daily basis for 26 years, Banasiak has now found himself in a fight for his own. It’s up to you to show your support for a local hero. Attend the benefit at the Sandbar to do your part in helping a man who has spent his life helping many.