As a boy, Brandon J. Thibeau was so determined to be helpful, his grandmother had to cut her broom’s handle in half. That way, he could still pitch in sweeping up around the house, his mother said.

It was an early glimpse of the young man her son would become. Never one to draw attention to himself, he was always looking out for others – even until his last days, she said.

“Brandon was always concerned about everybody else,” said Jane Thibeau, 48, of Cumberland.

When doctors told him that treatments for his rare form of cancer were no longer effective, he was already thinking about how his parents would cope with his death.

“He said, ‘I worry about you.’ I told him, ‘Brandon, we’re going to be fine.’ I wanted to reassure him,” his mother said.

Thibeau died in his sleep Wednesday at his parents’ Cumberland home, two years after he was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer. He was 22.

His parents said he was born with a sense of determination and grit that showed itself early and never faded. Unlike other youths, he didn’t enjoy playing video games or other pastimes.

He found contentment in work, whether it was stacking wood with his father or mowing his family’s lawn.

“He’d be out there with the push mower because he thought it was too much work for my husband,” Jane Thibeau said. “And two days later he would be out there mowing it again, and it was like, Brandon, it didn’t even have a chance to grow!”

Like many small boys, he was fascinated with heavy construction equipment and tractors. But unlike others, he got a chance to operate excavators and tractors around his family’s property, his father said.

At only 7 or 8 years old, he helped his dad install drain pipes, manipulating the hydraulic levers with ease, Richard Thibeau said.

The two loved to hunt and fish together, and he would pedal his bicycle a few miles after school to cast a line at Twin Brooks, even if it was only for a couple of hours.

Although school was a challenge, he graduated from Greely High School in 2013, having discovered his passion: firefighting.

His father said he discovered firefighting as a teenager, when a speaker from the fire department came to his Boy Scout troop.

Although hunting, fishing and spending time outdoors had been his calling as a boy – he wanted to be a game warden, Richard Thibeau said – once he found out what firefighting was all about, his mind was made up.

Thibeau soon was volunteering for the Cumberland and North Yarmouth fire departments, first through the explorer program, and later as an on-call firefighter.

Cumberland Fire Chief Daniel Small said Thibeau quietly went about his job and always played down the fuss. “He wasn’t the sort that wanted to be in front of the class,” Small said.

Thibeau was named Cumberland Fire Department’s Firefighter of the Year in 2016 by a unanimous vote. He received his associate’s degree in fire science from Southern Maine Community College in December, his parents said.

Small said Thibeau refused to give in to illness. He showed up for training the week before his death, along with his oxygen tank.

“He wanted to be a firefighter until the very end, not to give up,” Small said.

Thibeau was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, his family said, after he found a lump on a lymph node in his neck. His form of cancer, which affects nerve cells throughout the body, spread rapidly and has no cure, doctors told him. It didn’t stop him from living his life as fully as he could, his parents said.

During one of the family’s frequent trips to a camp near Rangeley, Thibeau hiked Bald Mountain with his girlfriend, Lindsay Nunley, so he could propose to her at the summit.

A traditionalist, Thibeau asked Nunley’s father for her hand in marriage. Her father agreed, and on the mountaintop, Nunley said yes.

“My husband and I were sitting there at the camp, waiting for them,” Jane Thibeau said. “They were taking forever.”

His family said they will remember how in the last couple months of his life, Thibeau would drift off to sleep with his chocolate Lab puppy, Gunner, whom he picked out only a few weeks ago. Jane Thibeau said the dog is a comforting reminder of their son.

“When Brandon was diagnosed, we knew there wasn’t a cure, and that one day it would take him,” Jane Thibeau said. “We didn’t think it would take him so soon.”

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]

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