Wellesley firefighter celebrates final chemo treatment with surprise parade

WELLESLEY, Mass. — A Wellesley firefighter and cancer survivor celebrated her final oral chemotherapy treatment Thursday with a surprise parade at her fire station.

Police, firefighters, friends and family held a parade in honor of Joanie Cullinan, circling the firehouse in their cars, many holding signs and balloons while cheering for her.

"It was pretty surreal, especially after being in lock-down for the past six weeks and not seeing any of my loved ones," Cullinan said of the parade. "So it was pretty cool to have them all in one place, probably the most important day of my life so far."

Cullinan rang a bell in front of the station to mark the end of her cancer treatments.

Boston 25 News first met Cullinan last year, when she shared her story of how a cancer screening saved her life. The free skin check at the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts conference in the summer of 2018 discovered a spot on her back. It would turn out to be a malignant tumor. Cullinan was diagnosed with Stage 3 Melanoma at 38 years old.

Surgeons removed Cullinan's tumor, along with lymph nodes where the cancer had spread. She began oral chemotherapy treatments along with steroids.

As Cullinan began to lose her hair, she hosted a Buzz-A-Thon fundraiser at her fire station, shaving her head along with her boss, Wellesley Fire Chief Rick DeLorie.

She also joined forces with organization 15-40 Connection, advocating for early cancer detection.

"We’re seeing the results with her here tonight," 15-40 Connection founder Jim Coghlin said of Cullinan's cancer screening. "It’s good that she caught it when she finally did catch it, because if you just let it go the chances of coming back are very slim."

One of the most difficult parts of Cullinan's battle with cancer was not being able to do her job.

"When you help people for a living and that’s taken away from you, that’s hard," Cullinan said.

"It was really hard," her mother, Donna Cullinan said. "So I think that she turned that energy into something positive: raising awareness about cancer under 40 and raising money for firefighters with cancer."

Cullinan is still regaining her strength, but she is eager to return where she belongs.

“We’re thrilled that she’s cleared all these hurtles and so look for her to come home to the fire station,” Chief DeLorie said.

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