DALLAS — Jeff Ambrose never saw the enemy coming.
“You go from having a normal life, let’s just say... and then this hits you,” he said. “It brings you to your knees, and you don’t know. Some days I do wake up and I don’t even think I have this... I must be dreaming."
It’s not a dream — a nightmare, perhaps, and an all too real one for the Dallas police officer.
Last August, Ambrose, 43, was practicing shooting alone at the department’s rifle range when his left side went numb. He felt dizzy.
“I thought I was having a heart attack,” he said. “I didn’t know what that was.”
At the hospital, doctors did a scan. Ambrose recalled what happened next.
“The doctor comes back in a little bit and says, 'You’ve got two issues. You’ve got two black spots, two shady spots in your head,' he said. The first thing out of my mouth was, 'Do you got the right CT scan?'"
The diagnosis: Stage 4 brain cancer.
In 10 months, Ambrose has been in and out of the hospital; he's undergone two brain surgeries; and now he’s back in the hospital for his third brain surgery.
He will undergo surgery Monday at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston to remove another tumor.
“It’s like a weed,” said Skylar Lemings, Ambrose's girlfriend. “It grows back. It’s just very aggressive.”
Since his diagnosis, Ambrose has suffered numerous seizures, including two in the last week that landed him in the hospital for several hours.
“It’s like these bolts of lighting,” he explained. "My tumor affects my whole left side, so my leg will be completely numb like you can’t feel anything. And my left arm will be completely numb and it feel like rings of lightning going down from my shoulder down to my fingers in one-second intervals. It’s very painful. I would equivocate it to someone taking a Taser and just dry-stunning you.”
These days, the one-time Army Ranger is on a first-name basis with the paramedics near his house. He tires easily. He can barely walk down the street. He doesn’t drive.
“You’re going from 100 miles-an-hour down to pretty much zero,” Ambrose said. “Going from catching bad guys to doing absolutely nothing is hard."
He is fortunate in one respect.
Ambrose — who joined the force in 2010 — signed up for city health insurance not long before the diagnosis.
“Most of my life I’ve never even had medical insurance because I’ve always been in good shape and I never thought I needed it,” he said.
Even with coverage, he owes tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills — and there are more bills to come.
“I’ve never had any medical bills like this... ever... never,” he said. “If I didn’t have any medical insurance at all, I don’t know what we’d do.”
Ambrose has been grateful for the emotional and financial help he’s received from police colleagues. For months, other officers worked shifts so he could continue to get a paycheck.
The Dallas Police Association’s Assist the Officer Foundation provided monetary support as well.
“They have tremendously helped me, assisted me, in all kinds of things,” said Ambrose, who has two children.
Still, finances are tough. He has run out of leave time and the paychecks have stopped.
Some help may be on the way. Officials are finalizing the details of a new catastrophic leave bank for police and firefighters. It would provide up to 12 weeks of pay.
“It’s just not 'I need the money,'" Ambrose said. “It’s just like you don’t feel like you’re a part of anything anymore.”
Ambrose misses the camaraderie and the constancy of police work. He had hoped to return last month, so it was extremely disheartening when doctors discovered the cancer was on the march again.
“I actually went in there two months ago and it was fine,” he said. “I went in there about three weeks ago and it had spread that fast, so frustrated... very, very frustrated. This is the third surgery I’ll be having. I’ll be back at square one for a while.”
He said he won’t stop fighting, and remains confident that the enemy won’t win the war.
“My faith is strong,” he said.
This weekend, Ambrose sent his friend a photo of him doing the "Rocky" pose — hands held high in the air — with a wide grin. The photo exemplifies Ambrose’s fighting spirit, said his friend, Officer J.T. Courson.
“Throughout his whole life, he’s been some type of fighter — whether it’s in the Army or him fighting for the right thing as a police officer,” Courson said. “He’s a fighter to the end.”
If you'd like to help...
Donations to assist Jeffrey Ambrose can be made online through the Assist the Officer Foundation. Type in his name to dedicate the donation to his fund.
Donations can also be mailed to:
Assist the Officer Foundation
ATTN: Jeffrey Ambrose
1412 East Griffin Steet
Dallas, Texas 75215