The Edmond Sun

April 5, 2013

Community rallies behind firefighter with cancer

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — A few weeks ago, Edmond Fire Capt. John Werhun returned from the MD Anderson Cancer Center with disheartening news.

In March 2008, Werhun had been feeling sick off and on for some time. His doctor suspected he might be suffering from something worse than a stomach virus. A couple of months later, the symptoms had gotten much worse.

On July 15, 2008, the day after undergoing a colonoscopy, Werhun was diagnosed with colon cancer. John and his wife Joyce had to break the news to their two daughters who were age 9 and 11 at the time.

An oncologist recommended that Werhun seek an opinion from MD Anderson. In August 2008, John and Joyce had their first appointment at the center. They were in Houston during their 17th anniversary; John’s weight had dropped to 152 pounds. The couple left feeling hopeful about his chances of beating the cancer.    

In May 2009, after chemotherapy, related surgery and a scan Werhun was declared cancer free. He returned to work, worked out and regained weight up to 200 pounds. The family had a great summer vacation in South Carolina.

In September 2009, Werhun had another clear scan.   

In January 2010, just a couple of months later, a scan showed small spots in both lungs and new spots on the liver, meaning they were fast growing. Werhun was told he had 9-12 months to live. He started chemotherapy again.

About a week ago, after meeting with the oncologist, the Werhuns were heading back from Houston. After nearly five years of battling cancer, the cancer was winning. Werhun learned his liver was not functioning properly. And there were too many tumors to remove with surgery.

In a recent update at, where Werhun has been updating family and friends, he wrote about his prognosis: “I may live anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. No one has guessed longer than 3 months, they’ve seen lots of this before, so I believe it.”

On March 27, Werhun posted and expressed his appreciation for all of the support he’s been getting from fellow first responders and the greater community including church friends. He wrote about planning for his funeral, seeing his body failing and the individuals pledging to help his family.

Werhun urged supporters to enjoy life, to have fun at whatever they are doing: “Make it so fun you just laugh half the day, that’s what I want for all of you reading this.”

Edmond Fire Maj. Bill Brown, who has known Werhun for eight years, said he is a professional for which others should aspire.

“He has always proven to be an inspiration to everyone that spends time with him,” Brown said. “Both professionally and personally, he is fast to respond and even quicker to serve. Always offering a quick smile and kind words, he draws people to him for his upbeat outlook and resilient pursuit of happiness.”

As a husband and father, few could match the unselfish dedication he has shown, Brown said.

“His love for his family has been demonstrated and reciprocated more than anyone could put into words,” he said. “Through his faith and love he is always a champion for which we should all hope to become.”

Edmond resident Andrew Martin works at the city’s emergency operations center. Martin said supporters are selling solidarity bracelets as a fundraiser and starting an “I pledge” campaign. On April 5, supporters donated $3 and dressed casual.

Other acts of kindness toward the family are encouraged, Martin said. They might include mowing their lawn for a year, helping with their taxes, ensuring their cars are safe to drive, making them a meal during the coming holiday season, cutting hair or working on their air conditioner unit, contributing to an education fund for the two girls. Martin pledged to pay for Werhun’s daughters’ prom dresses.

“I absolutely refuse to let John’s last thoughts be ones that question if his family will be OK when he is gone,” Martin said. “He was taken care of our families for years; it is our turn to help him.”

Financial donations can be made to the “John Werhun Family Support Fund” at any Citizens Bank of Edmond branch. For more information on helping the family, email Martin at | 341-2121