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Charleston police chief welcomed home from cancer surgery

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City of Charleston
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Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds

Applause rang out inside Charleston Police headquarters as Chief Luther Reynolds walked down the hallway, assisted by a pair of crutches.

Reynolds, diagnosed last year with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, returned to the department after going through a successful surgery that resulted in amputation of his right leg.

He remembers waking up in a hospital room and looking down, felt surprised by his emotions.

"I was not sad because my leg was gone," Reynolds said at the Feb. 28 news conference. "I was glad because the cancer was gone."

Reynolds, who said he'll continue serving as chief while undergoing treatment, arrived home to the Holy City about three weeks ago, ready to return to work.

The sidewalks around his house were filled with chalk drawings welcoming him back, indicative of the strong level of support he's received from the community.

Reynolds and his wife Caroline left for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, at the beginning of January where they lived for 40 days while Reynolds recovered from two major surgeries.

He was diagnosed with a form of sarcoma, the general term for a broad group of cancers that begin in bones and soft tissue. After several tests, doctors discovered Reynolds had a triton tumor — one of maybe 100 or 200 such tumors ever reported, he said.

The chief underwent a hemipelvectomy — a rare surgery which removes the pelvic area and everything below. Surgeons cut bones, tendons, nerves and muscle, he said.

Reynolds spoke frankly about his time at the clinic, describing his thought process before the surgery, considered one of the most intense a person can get.

"I knew that was coming, but I still had to do it," he said. "That was probably one of the most difficult parts."

The support he received from friends, colleagues and even strangers is what got him through those challenging moments, Reynolds said.

"On this journey, there was a period of time where I almost didn't make it," he said. "There was a very thin line between me living and me dying."

He recalled feeling like he was in a portal: "I could see the faces of the people who were lifting me up in prayer."

One of them is Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, who sat next to Reynolds at the Feb. 28 event, at one point growing emotional as he described the first time he interviewed Reynolds for the job of police chief.

"It was like someone speaking in my ear that this was the guy for Charleston, to help lead us in the years ahead for public safety," Tecklenburg said. "This man not only had the professionalism of knowing the job and the experience of policing … but he had a heart for the job as well. You see that come through today, as always."

Reynolds wants to make clear his cancer isn't over, despite returning to the department.

He'll be working on a part-time basis as he continues healing from the surgery. Deputy Chief Chito Walker has been tapped as the interim chief who will step in if a big decision needs to be made while Reynolds is out, he said.

While speaking candidly about his experiences isn't easy, Reynolds said he hopes the Charleston community will understand this is a "good story," one filled with immense love and support.

He discussed coming to understand his own mortality, a humbling feeling which is ultimately a gift because it makes us more conscious, Reynolds said.

"It makes us more sensitive to those around us, how we talk, how we treat people with civility, with love, with kindness," he said.

At the end of the day, life is short — something the chief understands better than most given his line of work. But Reynolds' cancer fight has given him an even more acute awareness of the ticking clock, he said.