I'd like you to meet my friend, George. George is 43 years old, he's a husband, a father of four, and the Deputy Police Chief in Wrentham. He also has incurable Medullary Thyroid cancer.
There are so many reasons why George is a beloved member of his community, but what I like most about him is that he's simply great company.
In January of 2020, George and I met up in a studio to record a podcast. During that time, he was training for the Boston Marathon and raising funds for the Pediatric Cancer unit at Boston Children's Hospital. George was running to show other survivors that cancer can't stop them, all while raising funds for something he is passionate about; curing and comforting those suffering with pediatric cancer.
In early 2016, George was diagnosed with a rare and incurable cancer called Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma. At the time, he wasn’t sure if he would live out the year, so training for the 2020 Boston Marathon four years later was a huge accomplishment.
Following his surgery in 2016, George underwent a six-week combination of radiation and chemotherapy. A year later, he developed a metastatic tumor in his spine, necessitating additional radiation treatment. For the next year, he remained in a stable condition until the cancer began to intensify, spreading to various regions of his spine, hips, and ribs. It even progressed into his liver.
A few months before the podcast recording, George initiated a treatment with an experimental medication called Selpercatinib, and within two days, he began to feel better. He never actually realized how bad he felt until he started feeling good again.
The 2020 Boston Marathon ended up getting postponed due to the pandemic. However, being 39 and wanting to run a marathon while still in his thirties, George ventured out in June, two days before his 40th birthday, to run his own mapped out 26.2 miles. George still ran the postponed 2020 Boston Marathon later in September and earned a well-deserved medal. He ran the Boston Marathon in 2021 and the Chicago Marathon in 2022, again, raising money for pediatric cancer charities.
George grew up in Wrentham, where he currently resides with his wife and four children. He also holds the position of Deputy Police Chief in town. George devotes a significant amount of his time to coaching his kids in Wrentham youth sports and serves as a Board Member and Boys Travel Director for Wrentham Youth Soccer. Additionally, he serves as a Board Member for ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors' Association, a nonprofit organization with a primary focus on raising awareness about thyroid cancer. The association's mission is to educate and provide support to the global thyroid cancer community while investing in research.
George is a true "Townie" and since I've been contributing to the Notable People of Wrentham stories, I thought it would be a great opportunity to catch up with him through an interview...
Hi George! How did your parents end up in Wrentham?
My mother was born and raised in Wrentham. Both of her parents worked for Crosby Valve, which was a staple employment factory for Wrentham just off of Kendrick Street. After bouncing around between Plainville and Pawtucket during his childhood, my father’s parents settled down in Plainville for his high school years, where he attended King Philip High School. They both graduated from King Philip, married, built a house in Wrentham, and started raising a family, which includes my two older sisters, Christina and Rebecca.
What memories do you have of growing up in Wrentham?
I was involved in many activities while growing up in Wrentham. I played recreational sports, mostly soccer and baseball; was involved in Boy Scouts, Troop 131, where I obtained my Eagle Scout award. Played music while in the Wrentham Elementary School; and my family also were members of the Original Congregational Church, here, in the center of Wrentham. It’s funny because I see a lot of the same memories I had as a kid, my children are now experiencing on their own. For example, marching in the Memorial Day Parade or the Opening Baseball/Softball day parade, hanging out up at Sweatt Fields or Rice Complex while a sibling has a town baseball, softball, or soccer game. Of course, when I was younger we had to use our imaginations a little bit more as there weren’t the playgrounds they have now.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
Like a lot of kids, I always wanted to be a police officer or firefighter when I was a child. This continued through elementary school and high school. After graduating from King Philip High School in 1998, I went to college, majoring in Law Enforcement/Criminal Justice. Also, at age 18, I volunteered for the Wrentham Auxiliary Fire Department where we had weekly trainings. Shortly after graduating college in 2003, I was hired as a full-time police officer by the Town of Wrentham. Over the past twenty years, I’ve worked my way through the ranks to become the Deputy Chief of Police.
What has been an influential experience in your life?
I have had many experiences that have influenced my life. However, the most dramatic was when I was diagnosed with a rare and incurable form of thyroid cancer called, Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma in 2016. Being diagnosed with such a serious disease really changed the lens I see life through. I was 35 years old with three young children, ages 4, 2, and 1 years old. It was this catalyst that really made me focus on things that I can control in my life and to stop worrying about things out of my control. For example, I was not able to control the fact that I developed cancer; however, I was able to control my reaction to my diagnosis. I was also able to control my eating and exercise habits to ensure my body was at its fittest to fight cancer. I may have taken this a bit too far while running four marathons in three years but at the time, it seemed like a positive, good idea.
Was raising your own kids in Wrentham always your plan?
I can’t say raising my kids in Wrentham was always my plan but I am extremely grateful I have been given the opportunity to do so. That tight-knit community that I took for granted while growing up in Wrentham, I feel so lucky to be apart of today. Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I remember standing up in front of the Trinity Episcopal Church for a stewardship speech where I mentioned how the church is like an extension of family and how my family would be there for anyone in the congregation that needed it. Little did I know that just a year after giving that speech, it was me and my family that needed assistance. But like in true form, this community (and beyond) embraced my family in our time of need spiritually, emotionally, and financially to get us through those difficult first few months.
What do you love most about Wrentham today?
Probably its scenic charm. All roads leading into the town center are bordered by historic houses, The Congregational Church with its iconic clock steeple that can be seen pretty much from any direction as you enter the center, the town common which is lit up with holiday lights during the winter and the sounds of Concerts on the Common during the Summer; all contribute to its charm. Included in its charm is the friendliness of its residents. It's near impossible to pass someone while walking through the center of town without hearing a friendly “hello” or even just eye contact with a kind smile. It’s the people of Wrentham that have kept it a friendly town for these past 350 years.
What's your favorite book?
More than my favorite book, I really enjoy reading with my children. A series my two oldest and I have been reading recently are The Chronicles of Narnia. When we can find 20 minutes, we will grab whichever book we are on in the series and they will read a chapter and then I will read a chapter. It's fun to put different voices to characters and just to see them overall enjoy reading. Don’t get me wrong, they are not begging me to read with them. In today’s day of electronics and so many other competing choices, I will admit at times I struggle to get them to sit and read with me. But afterwards, they are always glad they did. I’ve always felt, if you can read and understand, you can learn anything.
How is your health today?
The experimental trial drug has worked extremely well for the past three years. However, the cancer has slowly acquired a resistance to it, and in April of this past year, it started to progress quickly again. After a surgery to my femur in May for a new lesion found, I was placed on a new trial drug and will eventually have to undergo some more radiation. Unfortunately, I won’t be running any marathons again but I am ok with that as long as I can keep up with my kids and their sports. I feel like health, for anyone, is always an ever-changing process. You just have to be able to ride the waves during the good times and hang on tight during the low times.
Beach or mountains?
Definitely mountains. Not only do I find the beach boring but I hate how sand consumes every part of your body and the grittiness of every bite of food you take.
Do you know a joke?
Although I used to roll my eyes at my father’s “dad” jokes, over the years, and maybe now because I’m a dad, I have learned to appreciate them. A recent one I heard that comes to mind:
How do you tell a joke from a dad joke?
"When it becomes apparent (a parent)!"
The ironic part about that joke is, I actually heard it from my father.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I volunteer for ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association; which is a nonprofit organization created to raise awareness to thyroid cancer. Their mission is to “Educate and support the global thyroid cancer community and invest in research.” If anyone reading this who has or knows someone who has dealt with Thyroid cancer, I would encourage them to go to ThyCa.org to see and take advantage of the information and resources ThyCa offers.
By George Labonte & Grey Almeida. July 6th, 2023.