A Cop's Fighting Spirit Helps Kids with Cancer

updated 03/05/2007 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/05/2007 AT 01:00 AM EST

James Seneca, 45
Aurora, Colo.

Two weeks after entering the police academy in Buffalo, N.Y., 26-year-old James Seneca was diagnosed with leukemia. Dropping 55 pounds during a grueling year of chemo, "at one point I said, 'I can't take this anymore,'" he recalls. "But my family and friends said, 'You can't give up.'"

Twenty years later, Seneca—now a recruiter on the Aurora, Colo., force—helps others battle back. In April 2003, he launched Cops Fighting Cancer, a nonprofit that holds boxing matches and other fund-raisers for families facing the disease. So far he and 100 police and civilian volunteers have raised $250,000 for 56 families. Says Graham Dunne of the Aurora Police Academy: "Jim's passion in life is to help people."

Initially Seneca set out to help fellow cops stricken with cancer—but only one cop showed up to his first meeting. Soon after, he read a story about Brianna Roberts, a 3-year-old girl with rhabdomyosarcoma—a soft-tissue cancer—whose uterus had to be removed. "I cried like a baby," recalls Seneca, a doting father of three who works three part-time jobs to make ends meet. He tracked down Brianna's family at the hospital and learned they were deeply in debt. Tapping his police buddies, he helped organize a dinner and silent auction that raised $9,000. "We would have lost our house without him," Brianna's mom, Tammi, says. "He's our angel."

Beyond raising funds—they recently bought a dryer for a family with three gravely ill daughters—Seneca's group helps in other ways too. On Jan. 25, Seneca and his buddies showed up at the hospital room of a teenage boy dying of bone cancer; they made him a deputy on the spot. All of which, Seneca says, comes as naturally as wearing blue: "It's simple compassion, really."

Know a hero? Send suggestions to HEROESAMONGUS@PEOPLEMAG.COM Please include your name, phone number and return e-mail address. For more information on Seneca's work, go to www.copsfightingcancer.org.

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