‘Like family’

tyrone walker/staff Renee Thomas and her husband, Troy, share a laugh Monday as she reads messages from friends on her cellphone while receiving chemotherapy at MUSC’s Hollings Cancer Institute.

MOUNT PLEASANT — The text to her husband was straightforward, much like Renee Thomas herself.

“It’s all fallen out. It’s all gone,” she wrote.

Mount Pleasant fire Lt. Troy Thomas didn’t hesitate. His wife had lost the last of her hair to chemotherapy for cervical cancer. Thomas turned to the other firefighters on the crew and asked if anybody had shears. If Renee could brave her way through this, he could at least lose his hair, too.

Firefighter Steve Szymanski pulled out a brand-new electric razor. He laid it out for the lieutenant:

“I just so happened to have these, and we’re all planning on getting a haircut today.”

Engineer Chad Harris stepped forward. So did Jordan Juday and Jay Upham.

Thomas’ entire Station 4 shift shaved bald. Then another Station 4 shift did.

One by one, other shifts and individual firefighters went under the “shears.”

A week later, about a third of the town’s 100 firefighters have shaved heads and others are joining in.

Lt. Glory Jacumin had the clippers taken to her proud 19-inch- long, brunette ponytail — uncut for six years.

That wasn’t good enough, so she had the hairdresser take another 5 inches.

Then she challenged the other firefighters: If everyone else goes bald, she will too.

When Troy’s shift sat for the hair shaves, he began sending the photos to Renee.

“I looked at the first picture and I cried,” she said. “I cried standing in my kitchen looking at it. I didn’t cry when my hair came out, but I’ve cried when every one of those pictures came through.”

The Thomases talked Monday from her room at the Hollings Cancer Center, where she’s undergoing another round of chemotherapy.

Renee, 35, is on her second set of chemo treatments since her diagnosis in November. She’s had nearly 30 radiation treatments.

The couple have been married 12 years. They are working their way through this side by side.

“Oh my goodness, you don’t have enough time to hear about what I think of my husband,” Renee said. Then she told a story about him.

The radiation treatments in December made her so sick she couldn’t lie flat in bed, so she moved to the sofa. Troy grabbed a sleeping bag and moved to the floor beside her, sleeping there for a month and a half.

“He said, ‘I won’t go back to our bed until you can go with me,’ ” she said.

Asked what he thinks of Renee, Troy can’t answer for a minute. He takes a deep breath and then another.

“I can’t get anything out,” he said. He tells about how she shooed him from staying with her through all of the last round of chemo, so he could get out on the street with the other firefighters to collect for the Carolina Children’s Charity, the couple’s favorite cause.

“She’s definitely something else, that’s for sure,” he said. “She’s amazing and pretty cute, too. I like this hairstyle. It’s like having a little kitten in the house.”

Battalion Chief Steve Drozd is one of the next ones to go under the razor. He said he’ll do it Wednesday, shelving for a while the Dep 11 styling gel he’s so fond of that Troy said he uses a gallon.

Firefighter-Paramedic Willie Torres has been with Station 4 only a month, but he sat right down for the shave.

“We’re all a family here. It’s a brotherhood,” he said.

Each time a photo comes through on the phone, Renee smiles, Troy said. “It gives her fuel.” He told her nurses on Monday, “She’s got 32 guys behind her right now.”

Jacumin is organizing a group photo of shaved heads Saturday at Station 4, with Renee and Troy. She hopes to have at least 40 firefighters.

Troy wants to hang the photo in the center.

“There’s heroes here, and these people need to know they have support behind them,” he said.

Renee’s attitude and faith in God are carrying the couple through, he said. “But what these guys did ...” — he stops. He can’t get the words out.

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on Twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.