Commencement ... and life ... is sweeter after bout with cancer


Commencement will be a little sweeter for one Fairfield University graduate today. But then, each day seems a little brighter for Tommy Chalmers since he endured 26 days of radiation to beat back the cancer that had invaded his brain and spine.

The diagnosis came after his freshman year. The Bridgton, Maine, native was back home when tests began and then confirmed that he had a brain tumor and the cancer had spread to his spinal column. The treatment of radiation was agreed upon by Dr. Turner at Dana Farber in Boston and Dr. Young in Maine.

For 26 days, five days a week, his Mom would drive him the hour-and-a-half each way for the treatments. "I had nausea, was throwing up all the time. It burned my throat so it was hard to swallow and I lost my hair," he says matter-of-factly as he ticks off the side effects of his treatment. You get the idea it is something he has put in the past because he is so grateful to have his life back.

"Freshman year I had about a 2.8 G.P.A.," he kind of shrugs. Now, he says he rarely misses a class "I love going to school - I enjoy my life a lot better." He says the experience brought him closer to his Mom and he appreciates the many great friends at school who supported him. The political science major is rounding out his college career with a 3.3 G.P.A.

He has used his return to good health to help others going through what he did. So far he has raised over $8,000 for cancer research and treatment, through the Students for Cancer's "Relay for Life" fundraiser which he helped organize at Fairfield this spring, and through the Lance Armstrong "Live Strong Bike Ride" in which he took part in Philadelphia with his brother, sister and brother-n-law last September. In October he traveled to Texas for the "Live Strong Summit" where Lance Armstrong was the speaker. He plans to do the 40-mile bike ride in Philadelphia again this summer.

Amazing as it may be, Tommy basically took one summer and the fall semester of his sophomore year to beat back his cancer. He has checkups every three months and will continue to have MRIs annually.

In order to graduate with his class this Sunday, Tommy took six courses last summer. He is going home with his family for the summer and then would like to work in the Connecticut or New York area with an insurance company before moving back to Maine to join the family business, Chalmers Insurance.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on May 20, 2007

Vol. 39, No. 230