After 14 years of using his twisted, shriveled skin and emotional scars as a warning to kids about playing with fire, Vic Romero must stop to focus on the war waging within him.
He's positive he can win it.
Wednesday night, Romero, 62, gave his last talk to a group of Pikes Peak-area kids who have been caught setting fires.
Just as he has at least once a month since 1995, he told them the story of how he, at 17, was cleaning a car pipe with gasoline and was set on fire from his waist to his crown. He told them of the painful and humiliating days, months and years that followed.
He told one boy to sit up straight and listen. He asked others how they would feel if they would have burned themselves or someone else.
Then he said goodbye.
In April, Romero will begin chemotherapy treatments to combat lymphoma, which doctors discovered in December. He'll then start treatments for the hepatitis C virus he contracted during one of 400 blood transfusions he had in the early 1960s, before blood banks screened donors.
He will be too weak to make the monthly commute from Westminster to Colorado Springs. He will be too weak to perform the impassioned, fear-instilling re-enactment of the 20 seconds he was on fire or bring himself to tears recounting how his accident sent his father into an alcoholic stupor.
For Romero, walking away from the talks is like walking away from a trusted therapist.
Re-enacting his accident is for him reliving it. Talking about his pain has brought healing.
For Colorado Springs firefighters, they are losing the man who shaped the classes into the shock-and-educate program it is today.
"There are tens of thousands of people he has touched with his passion and with his words," said paramedic Mark Romero, who is no relation. "He bares his soul."
For all the horror Vic Romero necessarily imparted on his young students, it is in private that his seemingly unshakable optimism comes through.
"Life is so beautiful, why waste it?" he said. "Why think on the negative when it is better to be positive?"
His nose crinkled with a smile as he explained how his faith in God has gotten him through all he has endured and how he's certain God will see him through the challenge ahead.
"I'm going to beat this cancer, there's no two ways about it," he said.