An Air Force Academy firefighter who battled the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires is now in the fight of his life against a rare cancer.
Air Force Master Sgt. Jason Linta was set to retire at the end of last year after almost 23 years fighting fires.
Everything was in order. His retirement ceremony was behind him, he had a contracting job lined up in Afghanistan. All he needed were some glasses.
The morning of his optometry appointment Linta woke up thinking, "something isn't right."
"I started getting some bad migraines in September," Linta said. "Something was impeding my eye from going all the way up."
Nine days later, he was told he had a large tumor behind his right eye.
The tumor was the length of a thumb and twice the width. It was "jammed into the eye socket," explained his wife, Audrey Linta.
Surgery was scheduled for Nov. 28. The operation lasted almost two hours and involved pushing aside Linta's eye to reach the tumor.
The surgeon could only remove about 75 percent of the growth. "It was like an octopus on steroids," Audrey said.
The growth was biopsied, and the Lintas hunkered down to wait for the result.
During the wait, the master sergeant confided in a friend.
"He asked me if I had thought about pulling my retirement back," Linta said. "I said no, I didn't even know that was an option."
Luckily for the Lintas it was an option, and one that they capitalized on when the pathology report came back on Dec. 1.
The tumor was adenoid cystic carcinoma of the lacrimal gland, a rare type of cancer found in the eye socket.
The next weeks were a whirlwind for the Lintas, who have an 18-year-old daughter and 16-year-old twins.
Linta was referred to specialists at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. The couple flew east for a consultation quickly followed by a second surgery on Dec. 14.
On Jan. 2, the Lintas sat down for their second pathology report. The cancer was invasive and had spread.
They got the worst news: It is not a curable cancer. It is a one in 10 million case.
"It was disheartening to hear it's not curable," Linta said. "That was our hardest day."
The Lintas returned home to Colorado Springs to difficult questions from their children.
How long will dad be alive?
"It's when God decides," the parents responded.
Does this mean I am going to get cancer, too?
"We hope not," they responded - the cancer is not hereditary.
Even in their darkest hour, though, the Lintas say they feel lucky. The community has come together to support the family.
All three of their children go to Rampart High School, and the twins both play basketball. The coaches bought the teams new shirts that read #JBirdStrong in support of Jason Linta.
"We are truly blessed, there has been tons of love and support," Linta said through emotion. "It makes this (expletive) situation a little bit better."
The Lintas want to share the support they've found by establishing a nonprofit to support others with the rare cancer.
Others, the sergeant said, will never get a big, blue family on their side.
"I'm OK because I'm military, so I have a lot of support," Linta said.
Some people haven't been able to receive treatment after the rare diagnosis.
"We need to help those kind of people," Linta said.
But uncertainty lies ahead for Linta, too.
On Wednesday, they hope to learn what stage the cancer is and the prognosis. The firefighter is taking it in stride.
"I don't know whether to feel special or what," Linta jokes. "My mom always told me I was special. I didn't know I was one in 10 million special."