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Community rallies to support Cincinnati police officer's fight against brain tumor

Posted at 2:36 PM, Dec 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-01 18:01:57-05

CINCINNATI — In his decades on the Cincinnati police force, Officer Josh Phillips never gained a reputation as someone who asks others for help. Usually, he was trying to solve other people's problems.

But now, the 22-year Cincinnati Police Department veteran finds himself staring down a daunting medical diagnosis. He's also feeling an equally reassuring swell of support from his family, friends and fellow first-responders.

"I'm not the kind of person that goes out of my way to be asking for support," Phillips said, even now, months into what has proved to be an arduous fight against a persistent tumor in his brain.

In May, the apparently healthy, 46-year-old husband and father of three boys suffered a seizure while sleeping next to his wife, Erin.

An undated family photo, provided to WCPO, shows CPD Officer Josh Phillips reading to two of his three sons.

"I had no symptoms, and then one night we had gone to bed. She was reading. I had already fallen asleep, and I had a seizure, and that was what got everything going," he told WCPO. "The next thing I remember, I'm in an ambulance at the hospital. It's cold, and I wasn't quite sure how I had gotten there."

After months of treatment, the tumor is still there.

While Phillips still holds his position with CPD District 2, his illness only allows him to work a certain amount of hours and so many days in a row. His current sabbatical has lasted about a month, he said.

"It seems like each day the treatment hits me a little bit differently," he said. "Some days a little wobbly, some days I have zero energy. Some days, I feel OK. Today, I'm kind of feeling OK."

He and Erin have been married for seven years. She teaches kindergarten, first and second grades at the Cincinnati Nature Center, and she said she relates to her husband's hesitation to reach out for others' assistance.

"It can be hard to ask for help, but it feels good to be so supported by the community, that people just want to be there for us and offer help" she said. "We have people bringing us food. We've had people offering to drive our kids places if we couldn't get them there, since Josh can't drive right now."

Friends last month launched a GoFundMe fundraiser when it became apparent Phillips' tumor wasn't responding to treatments and he began exploring the possibility of traveling to receive treatment under clinical trial.

On Nov. 24, the couple announced a test had revealed he would not need the trial treatment. Josh Phillips said he will stay on his current form of chemotherapy treatment -- a week-long regimen of pills, once a month -- until the spring, when doctors will reassess his tumor.

That's when they'll learn the next step in their search for a treatment that keeps the tumor from becoming deadly. If the treatment shows no or little sign of mitigating the tumor's growth, the next step could include traveling to other cities and meeting with other doctors. It could require both Josh and Erin to take even more time off work.

Meanwhile, the cost of treatment and missing work continues to add up, but they said even the smallest gestures of goodwill take some of the load off.

"It can be hard to let other people in, to be providing for us," Josh Phillips said. "I know it's taken a lot of stress off of my shoulders.

"There is a lot of unknown in this journey."

Ultimately, the last six months -- and the extra time he's gotten to spend with his wife and sons -- has him reflecting.

"It really does cause you to reflect on the decisions you've made in life, the choices you made in life, maybe could you have done more to enjoy life, and perhaps worked a little less."