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Montreal firefighters to run marathon, raise funds for colleague with brain cancer

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Gabriel Thibert earns a living saving others – but now the Montreal firefighter is in a battle for his own life.

Thibert, 39, was diagnosed in February with stage 4 glioblastoma, a fast-growing and aggressive form of brain cancer.

"I didn't know how to announce it to my family, especially my two kids," he said. "Emotionally, I felt paralyzed at first, like I was hearing somebody else's story."

Telling his family and colleagues at the Parc-Extension fire station was gut-wrenching for everyone.

Fellow firefighter Alex Kheir said he was devastated by the news.

"We knew that something was wrong because he had a seizure two weeks prior to that," he said.

To process it all, Kheir went on a run and began thinking of ways he could help his friend.

"Out of all the things that it can mean in the future for Gabriel, there was one thing I thought as I was running. I thought, 'He's not going to be able to run his marathon that he's been talking to me about the past two years,'" he said.

Kheir decided to run the Montreal marathon in his honour. It takes place in September, and he's recruited other firefighters to join him.

Kheir also initiated a fundraiser with the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) Foundation in Thibert's name to advance research.

Glioblastoma is a cancer that is difficult to treat and has one of the lowest survival rates.

Montreal firefighter Gabriel Thibert with his family. Thibert, 39, has glioblastoma."In large part, we don't know the cause, and because we don't know the cause, it's very difficult to know how we can prevent it," said Dr. Rhian Touyz, chief scientific officer of the Research Institute of the MUHC.

It affects four in 100,000 people in Canada and accounts for up to 15 per cent of all brain tumours.

Touyz said more research is needed to help develop potential treatments.

"Why some people do better and why some people don't. For example, we know only five per cent of patients with glioblastoma will have a five-year survival," he said.

Through it all, Kheir said he admires his friend's courage.

"He's been the strongest of us all throughout this whole thing," he said.

With some 50 firefighters across Quebec already signed up to run, Thibert said he's touched by the wave of support.

"I'm fortunate to have friends like this," he said. "It's like a second family for me."

So far, more than $10,000 has been raised in Thibert's name.

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