Pinellas Sheriff opens up about wife being diagnosed with breast cancer and his decision to retire

CLEARWATER, Fla. - They have been together for nearly 38 years, and that entire time Sheriff Jim Coats has dedicated his life to law enforcement. His wife, Cat has been there every step of the way.

"She is my best friend," the sheriff said.

A life partner, who was dealt a devastating blow.

"I will tell you that we were really concerned and you certainly fear the worst because you don't know when you are first diagnosed," the sheriff said.

This summer, Cat learned she had breast cancer.

"I was shocked, it was very much a shock. Breast cancer was not what I thought would happen to me. It was the farthest thing from my mind," Cat said.

It's because she just had her annual check-up in March

"I was fine according to the mammogram," Cat said. "But then, it was the end of May that I was doing a self breast exam and I felt a marble. So that is what I am preaching now, make sure to do self breast exams," Cat said.

Cat said she has suffered with cysts but this felt different. It didn't hurt and the lump felt hard..

"I already had an appointment scheduled for something else, and I told myself make sure to ask the doctor about the lump. But, my mind kept going back to it. I think my mind was trying to prepare me something was there," Cat said

Cat was right -- she had stage one breast cancer. The first person she told was her best friend -- her husband.

"The first thing he told me was that it was not my cancer, it is our cancer," Cat said. "And that is how we go through it. He is there every for everything. Every appointment, every chemo session."

And going through it as a team meant the sheriff needed to make a major decision. He decided to retire 15 months early to be there for Cat.

I kind of made a decision to change my priorities in my life," the sheriff said. "I not saying that family was not always number one. But, I will tell you my job entails a tremendous amount of time every day of the week, including weekends.  There is always something, an event or obligation, and I decided I needed to focus my time on Cat."

Sheriff Coats has dedicated 40 years to law enforcement. He has been the sheriff of Pinellas County for the past seven years.

"Cat and I made this decision together. I was very hesitant in making that decision. We had a lot of discussion about it, but once I made the decision, I was very happy with it. It was kind of like a relief," the sheriff said.

And, without intending to, he once again was a role model for his law enforcement community.

"At our office, once Cat was diagnosed with breast cancer, we had a lot of women following up on breast cancer and breast exams and making sure they were cancer free," the sheriff said. "The office has 3,000 employees, so to see so many taking some type of action was a great thing to see."

And, the sheriff stressed, he hopes his actions will send a message to other men in the community.

"I can not stress how important it is to stand by your significant other," the sheriff said. "I think you need to be there with them from the onset all the way through. To the counseling with the medical team and anything else they might have to endure."

His own wife has undergone a mastectomy, she wears a wig, and is still undergoing chemotherapy.

"It's a lot.  There are alot of emotions, they are going through a great deal and I want to be there," the sheriff said. "We are making our life together our number one priority."

And the sheriff said this time it will be be him walking beside Cat every step of the way. He realizes not everyone may be able to retire if a medical crisis occurs. But he hopes people will understand there is so much to life and sometimes you don't realize it until a curve ball is thrown your way.

"We all live and work for retirement, and sometimes we live and work to the point when we do retire and have the opportunity to those things when we retire it's too late -- medical issues interfere or other catastrophic things," the sheriff said. "So, we both decided while we both are still healthy to do what we want to do, to be together to travel, we are going to do it."

Cat said her husband's work has been a priority for all their marriage. But, when it came down to it, his actions proved she is the most important one of all.

"When he said he wanted to be with me during this journey and he was going to to take early retirement, not finish out the term, of course that showed me that I am number one," Cat said.

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