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Nashua teen to hold walk for cancer research

Author(s): A Telegraph Column by Dean Shalhoup    Date: May 21, 2005 Section: Amherst

The visitor came, uninvited, to the Stanton home one day in 1988, its boorish form reeking the rudeness and discourtesy so typical of an unwelcome, unwanted houseguest. The middle Stanton child, Justin, was an infant when it came; his brother, Jonathan, a toddler. Neither recalls its arrival. But as they, and new sister Tiffany, grew, the stubborn, obnoxious invader, settling in fast and tight, became impossible to ignore.
On a cold day about four months ago, the unsavory visitor finally left. Sadly, its departure was as sinister as its very existence, perhaps more. It was gone, but in its wake was a young family with broken hearts.
It took from them their husband and father, a successful dentist and accomplished trumpeter, a gregarious man who loved doing things with his family, who regularly volunteered his skills at free dental clinics for the poor.

Ken Stanton died in mid-January at 48. With his wife, Ann Vermette, also a dentist, and the kids at his side, he fought that "unwelcome visitor" – a family euphemism for his cancer – for 17 years.

Ann says she latched onto the euphemism at the advice of a friend, who just happened to be Peg Gilmour, at the time president and CEO of Home Health & Hospice Care.

"I was overwhelmed, between trying to keep things normal for the kids, all the appointments, working to keep his practice (it was in Manchester) going and attending to mine (in Dracut, Mass.)," she said. "Peg told me, 'Just think of cancer as an uninvited guest in your house that you can't get rid of, no matter what.'
"That's the philosophy we lived by for 17 years."

Now, with memories of the unsavory visitor still fresh, 17-year-old Justin is taking up arms and joining the war on cancer – specifically osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, which took his father.

On June 4, a bunch of people – the Stantons hope a big bunch – will walk the paths of Mine Falls Park with cancer research on their minds and Ken Stanton in their hearts. Their collective goal will be raising money for Massachusetts General Hospital's orthopedic oncology unit, the arm that handles cases such as Ken Stanton's, his son said.

The "Kenneth Stanton Walk for Cancer" is Justin Stanton's brainchild, a two-pronged endeavor that, in addition to raising funds for cancer research, is the community service project part of his bid to become an Eagle Scout. He's been with Troop 410 since first grade.

With an ambitious goal of 250 walkers raising $50,000, the Bishop Guertin High School junior can't afford to sit back and wait for walk day. Not that he would anyway, what with school, scouts and his fast-growing lawn care business keeping him out straight from dawn to dusk and beyond.

The exact route isn't yet set, but it'll be about 4� miles long, and start and end at the Nashua High School South parking lot adjacent to the park, he said.

Stanton is planning to go the whole nine yards, presently covering every imaginable base with posters and letters, soliciting donations from grocery stores for a post-walk cookout, and lining up volunteers to help out.
Perhaps showing early signs of political savvy, Stanton has put feelers out to some heavy political hitters, inviting them to walk, and if not, make a donation – or at least acknowledge his efforts.
He started right at the top.

"I faxed a letter to the White House for the president," Stanton said, quite matter-of-fact. Letters also went to Gov. John Lynch and Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy; he's actually heard from U.S. Rep. Charles Bass, who promised a concerted effort to attend, Stanton said. That was enough to get the veteran congressman listed as an honorary committee member.

Ann Vermette said her kids' memories of their father range from giving him injections of medicine to coaxing him out of his chair to do things with them.

"It was always, 'C'mon, dad, let's go,' " Vermette said. "They knew he loved to do things, that he just needed a push sometimes – he was always glad once he got going."

Understandably, the couch must have been pretty inviting for a guy going through what Ken Stanton did.
It all began with a little bump on his hip, his wife remembers.

"One day he said to me, 'Ann, feel this – what do you think?' Unfortunately, it was five months before a CAT scan was done . . . he was given pre-op chemo, then they operated," she said.

The cancer had spread; to save his life, surgeons had to take one of his legs. Stanton got a prosthesis, though, with hopes of returning to dentistry, and filled his time volunteering at the kids' Bicentennial School, gardening at home, then progressing to long walks and dancing.

"He even climbed Mt. Monadnock, and got involved with the adaptive (sports) program at Sunapee," Vermette said.

But the physical – and emotional – roller coaster wore on. A checkup showed the cancer had spread to his lungs. More surgery, recovery, then he began having seizures.

More bad news: A brain tumor.

"The tumor was totally independent of the other cancer," Vermette said. "We couldn't believe it."

It meant another operation, more chemo. Stanton's short-term memory faded; dashed were his hopes of ever returning to dentistry.

The Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Burlington, Mass., had by now joined Mass. General as a frequent destination for the Stantons. It was there in November 2004, Vermette said, that she was told to take her husband home. Nothing more could be done.

In February, Justin Stanton decided a cancer-research fundraiser in his dad's memory would be his Eagle project.

Whether he realized at the time how fitting the choice would turn out to be is anyone's guess, but his mom believes he knew: "Ken really wanted Justin to get his Eagle."

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Copyright, 2005, The Telegraph, Nashua, N.H. All Rights Reserved.