Sycamore firefighter resigns from DeKalb County Board amid cancer diagnosis; community rallies behind

Newly elected Brad Belanger resigns from District 1, at center of community outpouring in support of cancer battle

Sycamore firefighter Brad Belanger (second from the right in the 23 helmet) resigned from the DeKalb County Board this month after receiving a cancer diagnosis during the fall 2022. It was Belanger's first elected role after clinching a seat in the November 2022 election.

SYCAMORE – Two months after the swearing-in for his first elected role on the DeKalb County Board, Sycamore firefighter Brad Belanger has resigned amid a cancer diagnosis, although he said he’s feeling the love as the community comes to his aid.

Belanger, 44, a Republican elected in November to serve District 1 on the County Board, tendered his resignation from this month to focus on his health after being diagnosed with esophageal and gastric cancer.

Belanger said he’d kept quiet about his battle with cancer since the fall but has been blown away by what he called an “amazing” outpouring of support from Sycamore. He told his Sycamore Fire Department colleagues about his diagnosis in December.

“You have relationships, but you don’t realize the impact that it really has on these people until you’re in the time of need or, you know, you’re the guy at the center of the plate,” Belanger said.

For 22 years, Belanger has been a firefighter and paramedic with the Sycamore Fire Department. He’s coached area baseball and had plans to serve residents on the County Board. He said he believes it’s those decades-long connections that have spurred the widespread aid.

A GoFundMe fundraiser as of Friday had raised $23,501 from 195 donations for Belanger’s ongoing cancer care.

Among those who’ve sprung to action is Ian Wheeler, also a Sycamore firefighter and paramedic who is a member of the Sycamore Firefighters Local 3046 Union.

Wheeler, 35, said his Sycamore first responder colleagues began collaborating on ways to support Belanger the instant they heard about the diagnosis. To support their co-worker and friend, they designed and began selling T-shirts and challenge coins.

“The community has always been fantastic, and they’re not disappointing again,” Wheeler said. “I’ve grown up in Sycamore my whole life, and this is just what I’ve known Sycamore to be. When somebody in the community’s struggling, then everybody kind of steps in to help make sure that we’re all one big team.”

The challenge coin and T-shirts are being sold at both Sycamore fire stations. Wheeler said those looking to support the cause can visit and buy the items at any time of day. He said organizers are reordering to help meet demand.

“Fortunately for us, we’re here 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so anytime anybody wants to swing by and grab some, they are more than welcome,” Wheeler said. “If we do run low on something, I am constantly keeping orders up, so we might have a slight lag.”

The challenge coin, which features the words “We’ve got your back” are being sold for $15 each. T-shirts cost $20, and hoodies cost $30.

Belanger, who’s already started treatment, described his treatment process with Northwestern Medicine as akin to trying to shoot fish in a pond.

“You know you’re going to hit something, it’s just what are you going to hit,” Belanger said. “It’s kind of like a big waiting game to see what symptoms you’re going to have, when they’re going to hit and how bad they’re going to be.”

Belanger, who’s taking his diagnosis one day at a time, said he chose to resign from the County Board primarily to take care of his health and family. He said he also doesn’t want to fall short of providing advocacy for District 1 residents as he prioritizes treatment.

“The main focus was doing what’s right for myself and my family,” Belanger said. “But the other end was, in my opinion, I wasn’t able to represent the residents of the 1st District to the level I think they need to be represented.”

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