Chief Bret Farrar led the Lakewood Police Department through its most difficult time in its brief history – the Nov. 29 slaying of four officers.
Now, he faces his most difficult personal challenge: cancer.
Farrar, 52, has bladder cancer; his wife, Cindy Salazar, 49, has breast cancer. Both received the diagnosis this month and are starting treatments.
“I thought I had medical karma because I’d donated bone marrow,” said Farrar, who twice gave marrow in the early 1990s to strangers.
“To hear these things that you’ve never heard before shakes you to your core,” said Salazar, 49.
Neither Farrar nor Salazar feels sick now, and the family is trying to stay positive. Joined by their 20-year-old daughter, Sammie Farrar, the couple laughed and joked often during an hourlong interview Monday at their South Hill-area home.
Brent Farrar described the shared challenge he and his wife face as “the ultimate love story.”
“They don’t do anything separately,” their daughter added.
Farrar and Salazar “started running around together” March 5, 1976, at Foster High School in Tukwila and have been together since. Now, they’ll battle cancer side by side and with the help of their only child, who is home for the summer from Washington State University.
“We both will be having chemo together, we both will be losing our hair together,” Salazar said.
The chief has the support of his officers and the community.
“He shouldered this department for the last six months, and it’s time for us to return the favor,” Assistant Chief Mike Zaro said. “Anything we can do, whether he asks for it or not.”
At this point, Farrar said, he’s not taking a leave of absence and plans to work as he goes through chemotherapy. He said he has confidence Zaro will keep the department moving forward when he’s not able to be in the office.
“The department in under control,” Farrar said.
The chief has had one operation on his bladder, and his prognosis is good, said his physician, Dr. Jonathan Wright.
“He has localized cancer with no evidence of spread,” said Wright, an assistant professor at the University of Washington Medical Center who specializes in urologic cancer. “Our goal is a complete cure.”
Salazar’s cancer is not advanced, but she will undergo a double mastectomy today, chiefly as a preventative measure. “I want peace of mind,” she said. “I don’t want to sit there and wait for the other shoe to drop.”
Surgeries and medical appointments forced the chief and his family to miss the local, state and national ceremonies this month for the department’s four fallen officers – Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards.
Not being with the families during these past two weeks has been difficult, the chief said.
Farrar first noticed something was amiss in mid-April. He spotted blood in his urine and went to see his doctor. Based on the results of a blood test and a CT scan, the doctor referred Farrar to a specialist.
The specialist said Farrar had a mass in his bladder and, upon further investigation, told Farrar and his wife it was cancerous.
Meanwhile, Salazar had discovered she had a lump in her breast. She hadn’t been doing self-exams but “happened to check,” she said.
Salazar immediately had a mammogram, an ultrasound and finally a biopsy.
While the family awaited results of Salazar’s test, Farrar had surgery to remove the mass May 5.
The family hoped he had the type of bladder cancer that formed on the surface of the bladder and was not invasive. Before that question could be answered, Salazar got the results of her biopsy that afternoon.
She had breast cancer.
“It was like the worst day ever,” she said.
The following week, the bad news continued. Test results showed Farrar’s cancer was in the wall of his bladder. Another operation would be needed.
Farrar connected with a specialist at the University of Washington Medical Center. Further testing showed his cancer had not spread to other organs. “That was the biggest fear, that it had spread,” Farrar said.
The gantlet of surgeries and cancer treatment continues today with Salazar’s operation. She expects to recover for four weeks, take a month off and then begin six months of chemotherapy.
Farrar will start six months of chemotherapy next week.
He’ll have a month to rest, then have his bladder removed to keep the cancer from coming back. The recovery time is two to three months.
“Bladder cancer tends to recur at a very high rate in the bladder,” Wright said. “We are trying to further increase his chances of a cure.”
Farrar said he’s troubled more by his wife’s cancer than his. The No. 1 risk factor with bladder cancer is smoking. Farrar smoked for 30 years before quitting the day of his diagnosis.
“If it’s my fault, it’s my fault,” he said. “Hers bothers me.”
Salazar had no family history of breast cancer and no other risk factors.
“It’s out of the blue,” she said. “It’s very arbitrary.”
The chief said the couple’s cancer news has changed his outlook about many things. And he thinks about the ambush of his four officers. They didn’t have much chance to battle back. Farrar and Salazar do.
“After what happened to Ronnie, Tina, Greg and Mark, it puts everything in perspective,” Farrar said. “It gives us a fighting chance.”
Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/crime