Anthony Benelisha, a firefighter with the Arcata Fire District, holds his daughter Eleanor. Benelisha’s friends are raising money for his battle against colorectal cancer through a GoFundMe campaign. (Contributed)
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Anthony Benelisha and Luke Walker have been friends since they met in an emergency medical technician class at Humboldt State University in 2012. They volunteered together at the Arcata Fire District in 2013 and both got hired at exactly the same time in 2015.

“We’ve literally done everything together career-wise,” Walker said.

So when Benelisha began to feel sick at 27 years old, Walker said he thought “cancer seemed so far out of the normal possibility,” but that’s what it turned out to be.

“It was horrible,” Walker said. ” … Not that anyone deserves cancer, but I can’t think of anyone who deserves it less than Anthony. He’s just a really caring, down-to-earth, compassionate guy.”

Shortly after they found out about Benelisha’s colorectal cancer diagnosis, Walker’s wife Sinei said “the first thing I thought of was a GoFundMe.” Within a month, the GoFundMe surpassed its goal of $30,000, raising more than half that within just four days, which Luke Walker said was amazing to see.

“The silver lining in all this is Anthony and Ashleigh get to see how much people care about them and I think it’s because they’re amazing people,” Walker said.

While working at the Arcata Fire District, Benelisha has been awarded Rookie of the Year, Firefighter of the Year and the Fire Chief’s Achievement Award. Benelisha had begun schooling to become a paramedic last year, too, but had to drop out because of his diagnosis, according to the Walkers’ GoFundMe.

Sinei Walker said she’s likely going to increase the donation goal because Benelisha is unable to work, his wife Ashleigh is working full-time and the two have a newborn, Eleanor.

“I don’t want money to be something they’re stressing about,” Walker said. “I just don’t think they should need to worry about money at a time like this.”

The outlook is good, but he has quite a bit of treatment to go through, she said.

Luke Walker said they’re currently trying to find Benelisha housing in San Francisco because his second round of chemotherapy will require treatment five days a week for six weeks around April.

In the meantime, the Walkers and others are planning events including a silent auction, golf tournament and other fundraisers.

Walker had just gotten back from a trip with Benelisha to San Francisco for his treatment and said while “the treatment is kicking his butt,” he’s also dealing with it like “a champ.”

“There’s no way to endure (cancer) gracefully,” Walker said, “but he’s dealing with it pretty well.”

For updates or to donate to Benelisha, visit the Walkers’ GoFundMe page at bit.ly/2TzruA1.

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