2015-10-23 / Front Page

Family fights, asks others to run against cancer

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer


Emily Valentino, center, stands along the Eastern Trail near Kennebunk Elementary School, site of the inaugural Run 4 the Fight 5K on Sunday, Oct. 25, with event volunteers Denise Hammond, left, and Meg Parkhurst, right. Valentino has organized the event to help in the battle her husband Ben is now waging against multiple myeloma, but hopes to make the run an annual event that will eventually benefit other young families fighting against cancer. (Duke Harrington photo) Emily Valentino, center, stands along the Eastern Trail near Kennebunk Elementary School, site of the inaugural Run 4 the Fight 5K on Sunday, Oct. 25, with event volunteers Denise Hammond, left, and Meg Parkhurst, right. Valentino has organized the event to help in the battle her husband Ben is now waging against multiple myeloma, but hopes to make the run an annual event that will eventually benefit other young families fighting against cancer. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNK — Since moving to Kennebunk from New York City three years ago, Emily Valentino has marveled at the kindness of her neighbors.

Now, as her husband Ben, father to her three young children, battles against blood cancer, she has more reason than ever to appreciate that generosity of spirit.

On Sunday, Oct. 25 — that date of the couple’s 12th wedding anniversary — Emily will stage the Run 4 the Fight along the Eastern Trail near Kennebunk Elementary School to help raise funds for her family’s fight against the ravages of the disease. And, true to that local spirit of giving, she hopes to turn that inaugural run into an annual event to raise money for other young families like hers, struck low by similar circumstances.


Aydin Rundin, age 10 months, of Lewiston, attempts to blend in with the locals during Kennebunk Harvest Fest. (Duke Harrington photo) Aydin Rundin, age 10 months, of Lewiston, attempts to blend in with the locals during Kennebunk Harvest Fest. (Duke Harrington photo) “I want to give that money directly to the families, so they can put their kids in swim lessons, or dance classes, to keep that sense of normalcy, because, the hardest part about this has been the financial impact,” she said.

“There just aren’t a lot of resources out there for families dealing with cancer, especially in terms of trying to keep life normal when one income goes away. I know, for me, I do not want my kids to look back on their childhood and have it be all about, ‘dad had cancer,’ and I’m sure other moms out there must feel the same way. Something like this is so hard, to say no to them when they want to sign up for an activity, but you have to choose between something they love to do and things like foods and bills.”

Raised in Manhattan, Ben Valentino has always been active, enjoying a long career in physical fitness before turning to life as a long-haul truck driver in order to help facilitate his family’s move to Maine.

Lured to Kennebunk by the beaches and old college friends, the move, Emily says, “was the best decision we ever made as a married couple,” and everything seemed headed for a storybook ending when, out of nowhere, tragedy struck.

As it turns out, an accident may have been a blessing in disguise.

“He fell at work this past January and was in excruciating pain,” Emily explains.

The initial diagnosis was a muscle strain, but with Ben being so fit, and because her own background is in physical therapy, Emily knew something about that assessment “just wasn’t right.”

Sure enough, a second opinion turned up three fractured vertebrae. But, but more importantly, subsequent tests turned up evidence of multiple myeloma. That’s a cancer of the blood that normally strikes men 30 years older than Ben, making their bones extremely brittle.

“As it turns out, it was very fortunate that he fell, although we did not have worker’s compensation, and Social Security took nine months to kick in.”

Meanwhile, Ben has been on daily chemotherapy, punctuated by regular visits to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, trips that have been as draining emotionally as financially

And that’s where the Valentinos’ newfound community kicked in.

“It was really hard to ask for help in the beginning,” Emily says. “I mean, Ben and I would be the first to lend a hand to someone else who needed it, but it was hard being on the receiving end. But people here have been so wonderful.”

Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that is treatable but not curable and, Emily notes, “This will be with Ben for the rest of his life.”

“He’s a fighter,” she says. “He’ll put on his game face every day. He’s out and about, but he’s in pain every day, because it’s in the bones.”

The Run 4 the Fight, which is raising money for a nonprofit called Ban’s Fight that the Valentinos hope to found to help local families like theirs, will be a family event. The day will start with a kids’ run at 8:30 a.m., followed by the four-mile trail jaunt at 9 a.m. But there also will be a bounce house and a host of other kid-friendly activities throughout the day, which is being billed as “A celebration of physical fitness, the beauty of the Kennebunks, and the importance of community.”

Far more than the money raised, Emily is hoping for a large turnout for the benefit of her children, and their emotional well-being.

“We’ve talked to them about the help we’ve received, but I think it’ll be good for them to actually see it,” Emily explains. “It might have an stronger impact on them, to know that they are not alone in this, that mom and dad have support too, and that there are other families in Kennebunk who are dealing with this, because sometimes I’m afraid they think they’re all alone, that it’s just them.”

So far, Ben’s illness has been hardest on the couple’s oldest child, Nicco, age 10, Emily says. Eight-year-old Alex has fared better, while Zoe, 3, was somewhat taken aback by her father’s sudden loss of hair. Still, Ben being home has helped father and daughter form a bond that might not have grown, otherwise, Emily says.

Now 10 months into his treatment, Ben has recently begun feeling strong enough to resume coaching flag football. The hope is that while the cancer will never go away, he will become healthy enough to work, coach and take part in more of his children’s activities. However, a stem cell transplant will be required at some point, which will add to the physical and financial strain for the family.

Even so, Emily remains hopeful, keeping in mind her Grade 5 gifted-and-talented teacher on New York’s Long Island. He was diagnosed with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, but is now in his 23rd year with the disease, having raised millions of dollars for ALS research with the Ride for Life he founded.

“For someone to have ALS for 23 years is absolutely unheard of,” Emily says, perking up after a brief tear. “I just hope that some day Ben and I can mark an anniversary of 23 years since his diagnosis.

“But of course, what I’d really like to celebrate is a 50th wedding anniversary,” she said.

To sign up

For more information, or to pre-register for Run 4 The Fight, go to www.run4thefight.com online, or see any of the event’s volunteer coordiantors: Meg Parkhurst, Denise Hammond, Bryce Lenzen and Mari Mattucchio.

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