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We have always understood the special bond firefighters have and we also understand the way our community responds in times of sickness.

Over the past week and really even longer we have been allowed a more intimate look into that brotherhood.

One of our valued news sources, a friend and business associate is a firefighter who just finished a fourth round of chemo treatments for a rare and aggressive form of cancer known as mantle cell lymphoma.

We met Battalion Chief Kevin Hawkins years ago. The other day we tried to pinpoint it and seem to agree it was when former Roanoke Rapids Herald photographer Todd Wetherington and myself spent the night at the fire department for a feature story.

It seems longer than that, we both agreed, and then there came a time in the formative years of rrspin.com when we received a message from Michelle Hawkins, Kevin's wife, to call him.

This was during a time when we felt we had made the biggest mistake of our life — starting this website. We weren't sure we were going to make it, wondered where the money to pay the bills was going to come from.

Kevin said he wanted to sell ads for the website and that gave us hope, given his involvement in fundraising for Ducks Unlimited. Things got better.

We mention this out of transparency. Typically we as journalists aren't supposed to get too close to sources, we are supposed to be only observers but when a friendship and business relationship develops what are we supposed to do? Say, sorry, we can't be friends? No, we accept the friendship.

That's why Kevin's diagnosis has been so hard because he is a friend. There have been tears shed, thoughts and prayers requested and many prayers offered since the news of his sickness.

Reading up and studying MCL we realize it's serious and we know there is still a long road which will eventually require stem cell replacement and a month of isolation.

We also know scans are showing very little cancer now and for that we are thankful. Kevin's positivity, outlook and faith helps bolster our positivity, outlook and faith that he can and will beat this.

Through our friend's fight we have seen the brotherhood in action — the special T-shirts made by our friend and associate Randy Wrenn, news of generous donations and efforts to raise funds to cover expenses and within the last week a genuine outpouring from this community.

Carolina chips and Wells presentation

Last week we went to Carolina Chips where the local company made a generous donation which was matched by the parent company.

Back at the fire department on Roanoke Avenue firefighter Bruce Wells presented Kevin a framed #teamhawkins shirt which has been prevalent in his fight — the lime green the color of lymphoma awareness.

The shirt was signed by members of the fire department and city staff encouraging the battalion chief to remain strong. Then Wells presented Kevin a check from the Lake Gaston Chamber of Commerce, where Wells' wife, Christina, is the director.

The donations from Carolina Chips and the chamber show the spirit of community and even the Ladies of Lake are using proceeds from their Bunco games to benefit our friend.

Barbecue sandwich sale

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Wilkie agents Rhonda Nixon and Ford.

Then came Friday — a barbecue sandwich sale sold out in just over an hour's time. Then there was a donation from Wilkie Real Estate where our mutual friend Henry Ford is an agent.

Friday was capped off by the Kasey Tyndall concert — see the second photo gallery at this link and Wrenn's photos at this link — at the Roanoke Rapids Theatre where members of the fire department and other friends accepted donations for Kevin. Tyndall promised during the show a portion of her merchandise sales would go to Kevin.

Her performance Friday was fiery and she didn't shy away from encouraging those attending the show to donate.

We sincerely thank the new owners of the theater — Tom and Evon McLean — for allowing the evening's free concert serve as a fundraiser for Kevin.

They had pledged early on to make the facility a place for community and have lived up to that promise.

We have seen this community spirit take on many faces in the past and to be living in it through our friendship with Kevin, we see the spirit more clearly and see how that brotherhood of firefighters continues to live on.

For Kevin, the outpouring has been both emotional and appreciated. "Words can't describe the love and kindness I feel," he said after the Carolina Chips donation and presentation by Wells at the fire department. "I appreciate the love and support from Carolina Chips. I just thank them from the bottom of my heart and soul. May God bless them." — Editor