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Retired Kittery detective Ron Avery fights brain cancer
Retired Kittery police detective Ron Avery is surrounded at his York home by his wife, Wanda, and four sons, clockwise from left front: Jared, Ron Jr., Brandon and Ryan. Avery has an inoperable brain tumor and the family has started a GoFundMe.com page to help with travel and medical expenses. Photo by Deb Cram/Seaoastonline
By Jesse Scardina
YORK — Focus and determination were two traits retired Kittery police detective Ron Avery demonstrated every day for nearly 40 years on the job.
Now, with the strength of his family by his side, Avery, 62, is focused and determined while facing his toughest challenge yet: an inoperable brain tumor.
Avery, who worked as a detective in Kittery for 37 years, dealt with his share of headaches while keeping the community safe, but nothing like the ones he began experiencing about eight months ago.
“They would come on at night with great regularity,” Avery said Monday from his living room, with his wife, Wanda, and four sons by his side. “We went to the doctors and there was nothing to explain it.”
It wasn’t until the headaches began affecting his short-term memory that his sons took notice.
“Several text messages were the determination that something was wrong,” said Brandon Avery, adding that once the four sons connected with each other, they raised the concern with their mother.
On May 20, all six family members went to York Hospital and Ron Avery began testing at 11 a.m. By noon, he was in an ambulance en route to Massachusetts General Hospital with his family caravan trailing behind.
“The doctor came in saying, ‘We did what we had to do, we found what we didn’t want to find, and we can’t do anything with it here,’” Ron Avery said. “I knew from the time we left York Hospital that it was going to be a long ride. I knew the whole time it was a brain tumor.”
Most of the family members were thinking on the way to Mass General that it was early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
All Ron Avery was thinking about during the ride to Boston, however, was his late brother, Gerald Avery, who died three years ago of a glioblastoma brain tumor, one of the most aggressive forms of a malignant tumor.
“Three years ago, when we found that out, all I kept thinking was, ‘Is it hereditary?’” he said, adding he was assured by doctors it was more like a lightning strike — less than 2 percent of direct family members get diagnosed with glioblastoma.
“When the doctor in Mass General told us that, our jaws dropped,” said Ryan Avery. “It was a hard pill to swallow.”
Unfortunately for the Averys, the diagnosis wasn’t immediate, as the biopsy result takes about five days. The group spent more than nine hours on that life-changing Wednesday in May, waiting for any word from any doctor when one neurosurgeon responded to the family’s angst and offered his insight.
“From noon to 9 p.m., it was like snails time,” said Jared Avery.
What the doctor described to the family, an inoperable brain tumor, was their worst fear.
“That was the first we saw of it,” Jared Avery said. “The image was clear.”
‘I’ll give this the most I can’
Avery said when his brother was diagnosed three years ago in South Carolina, he wasn’t interested in radiation treatment or chemotherapy, and wanted to live out the remainder of his life on his own terms.
With nine grandchildren between 7 months and 7 years old, Ron Avery knew that forgoing treatment was not an option.
“I’m going to give this what I have,” he said. “I’m going to give this the most I can.”
Treatment started almost immediately, with six weeks of radiation treatment at Mass General. For those six weeks, Monday through Friday, family members and close friends would take turns traveling with Avery to Mass General — stopping at Kelly’s Roast Beef in Saugus almost every trip.
“The doctors said he would be on a liquid diet,” said Wanda Avery, a retired educator who worked for decades as a teacher and principal in Kittery schools. Ron chimed in that he could never give up his steaks.
During testing, doctors found an unrelated yet problematic tumor on Avery’s esophagus, which led to more radiation sessions, half of which Avery still has to undergo.
In addition, Avery will begin chemotherapy in pill form, five days on, 23 days off, starting later this month.
‘It brought us even closer’
While outside in their back yard with their new dog, a Shi Tzu-Pomeranian mix named AllyBear, the Avery family reflected on the last couple months they’ve spent together, coming to terms and dealing with the dire news, compared to when Avery’s brother died three years ago.
“The big difference this time is the positive attitude and the fact we’re doing this and talking about this,” Brandon Avery said.
Ron Avery said when his brother made the decision to forgo treatment, he said he didn’t like playing a game he couldn’t win. Avery and his family see every day together as a victory, and aren’t bothered with counting how many victories remain.
“I’m not going to lose anything else here,” Avery said. “In the back of my mind, with her helping me, and all of these guys here, I can give it everything I have.”
Support for the Averys has come from all outlets, according to the family, including the Mass General staff and many former colleagues of both Ron and Wanda.
“Ron has a reputation of being the most ethical, moral and honest individual I have ever known,” said Ray Hazen, a detective with the Kittery Police Department. “He had a passion for the job and a true compassion for the people he served.”
The Avery family hopes sharing their patriarch’s story can help raise awareness and research to find a cure for glioblastoma and other cancers.
“Bringing the disease to light is important,” Brandon Avery said, adding his father agreed to allow his medical information to be used to help further research.
With three of the Avery’s sons and their families living in York, and the fourth in nearby Wells, family gatherings at the Averys were always a common occurrence. This summer, however, weekend gatherings of the 19 members of the Avery family have become regularly scheduled events.
“We were close before,” said Ron Avery Jr. “But it brought us even closer now.”
How to help
The Avery family has established a GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com/averystrong for people to donate to the family’s medical and travel expenses during his treatment.
To follow this story, visit the Portsmouth Herald.