Luling firefighter remains positive despite holiday cancer diagnosis

Spends Thanksgiving, Christmas in hospital bed

In late November, a doctor’s exam showed that something was very wrong with Joseph Riebow. At first doctors thought it was a staph infection, then pneumonia. Unable to pinpoint the problem, doctors eventually admitted the Luling firefighter to the hospital in order to analyze his blood.

They found his white cell count was at 0.1, down from a normal count of 4.5, meaning Joseph’s body had virtually no way to fight infections. Shortly thereafter, doctors confirmed the terrifying truth to the 39-year-old father: Joseph had leukemia.

“We were thinking this was going to be an awesome Christmas, you know,” Joseph’s wife, Jennifer, said. “We were gonna decorate the house and we had a baby in March—this took us off guard.”

The treatments required Joseph to undergo multiple rounds of chemotherapy. Only days before Christmas, his second round was administered. The third round occurred a few days later. His last round of the debilitating treatment will come after the new year.

The chemotherapy treatments have taken a toll on Joseph’s liver and have left him too weak to get up on his own. He has also received numerous blood and platelet transfusions throughout the process.

Jennifer said she is hopeful that after his final treatment, scheduled for Jan. 5, Joseph’s body will begin producing the antibodies necessary for him to come home. Until that time, Joseph’s weakened immune system makes it dangerous for him to leave the hospital.

Joseph spent Christmas day at Tulane Medical Center. Jennifer said West Jefferson recommended Tulane for its expertise in battling Joseph’s specific form of Leukemia, known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL.

Despite the diagnoses, Joseph remains upbeat.

“Things are looking positive. I’ve got the right attitude and a lot of people are praying for me,” Joseph said. “Right now, I gotta stay focused and get better.”

Along with their most recent addition, the Riebows have two other children – a 20-year-old son and a 13-year old daughter. Jennifer said the oldest son is in college and wants to come home to help care for his father. However, she and Joseph have instructed him to stay at school.

Still, Jennifer can’t help worrying about the future.

“Everything changes…you’re scared because of the outcome—how much longer you have,” she said. “We have two teenagers and a baby and it’s like, is he going to be around for them?”

Joseph said the cancer diagnoses has changed his outlook on life and made him want to become a better person.

“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I’ve been thanking God from day one, and I still thank him.”

The couple said they have been blessed by employers that have been supportive of their needs. Jennifer said that once he gets his strength back, Joseph should be able to go back to work.

Joseph is shift firefighter at Cornerstone Chemical Company.As of Dec. 29, the couple said Joseph’s white blood cell count has risen, and the two have a good outlook.

“Keep a positive mind about it and you can get through everything,” Joseph said. “If you keep a positive mind, your body can hear your mind.”

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