Jazlyn Zombo has always been passionate about helping others. That's why she entered the Seminole County High School Health Academy at age 17 and became a firefighter in 2001. It's a job she loves, but it has come at a price. Jazz, as she is called by family and friends, was diagnosed with late-stage melanoma in 2006. "I almost died," she says. "But, I survived. Many, many of my friends didn't."
During her recovery, Jazz became even more resolved to make a difference, starting a movement to warn her brother and sister firefighters about the dangers of carcinogens on their skin and clothing. "We all see those dramatic images of the firefighter covered in soot, with the dirty gear, but it's so dangerous," she says. "Clean Gear is the New Cool. Immediately rinsing yourself after fires will reduce the carcinogens by 80 percent. We can take this stuff home to our kids and families if we don't get clean."
Jazz survived skin cancer only to learn during her annual women's exam in 2013 that she had cervical cancer. Cervical cancer, or cancer that develops in the cervical lining, is most often linked to the human papilloma virus (HPV). It is vital for women who are sexually active or over the age of 21 to receive regular pelvic exams and Pap smears, as these tests can detect cervical problems before they develop into cancer. Jazz's doctor was surprised by her diagnosis, since Jazz had none of the classic risk factors of the disease. "I didn't have HPV or a family history," she says. "I told my doctor 'it's because of my job.'"
Jazz started researching. Firefighters have a nine percent higher chance of being diagnosed, and 14 percent higher chance of dying from cancer than the general public. Prostate and testicular cancers were nearly 100 percent higher for men; for Florida firefighters, melanoma was the highest.
Jazz is grateful to her physicians at AdventHealth for making it possible for her to continue advocating for Florida's firefighters. To give back, she organizes Seminole County firefighter’s during October for breast cancer awareness month, raising more than $30,000 to help other patients and families battling cancer at AdventHealth.
She has worn her firefighter gear to run in more than 120 events, carrying the pictures of her colleagues who have passed or are still fighting cancer. "I want people to understand that we're going into these toxic environments and we're dying from cancer," she says.
This year, you can join Jazz at the Lady Track Shack 5k to support women battling breast cancer at AdventHealth.
Register today to participate in this annual run/walk on January 26 at Loch Haven Park. Your donations help local women receive annual mammograms and diagnostic screening who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford them.
In addition to her advocacy, Jazz serves her fellow firefighters, lending guidance and a shoulder to lean on whenever or wherever she's needed. "I do what I can to help them through what they're experiencing," she says. "I've been there, and I know how scary it is."