Two close-knit Bridgton communities become one at hospital wedding
By Gail Geraghty
The cancer spread so fast. It started in his esophagus. The pain has been severe. Radiation hasn’t helped. In four months, the cancer had spread to every part of his body and stripped away 150 pounds.
It was an unexpected shock to everyone when South Bridgton Fire Department Captain Calvin Nevells learned at the end of May that he had esophageal cancer. Yet at age 37, he believed he could beat the odds and have a complete recovery.
His tight-knit brotherhood of firefighters, both active and retired, backed him up all the way. They offered daily support as Calvin, with his partner Terri and their 14-year-old daughter Ashley and other family and friends, began the back and forth, up and down roller-coaster of treatments, transfers, admissions and discharges between Bridgton Hospital and Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.
During that two and a half months, Calvin’s positive attitude toward his cancer treatment was witnessed with a growing admiration by some hospital employees, simply because it was so unusual to see. He eased the anxieties of new patients in CMMC’s radiation room, by going right over to them to walk them through the steps. With Calvin, always very loving to his family and friends, anyone new has the chance to be a friend; he isn’t negative about anybody.
His fighting spirit is still intact, despite the marked decline that began a month ago. On Sept. 11, while at Bridgton Hospital, his condition deteriorated to the point that doctors decided to transport him by LifeFlight to CMMC for emergency surgery. By Saturday afternoon, he was able to return to Bridgton and be placed on comfort care. There’ll be no more intermittent injections of pain medicine, causing him more often than not to fall asleep and wake up agitated. Now he receives scheduled doses of a powerful pain medication delivered through an intravenous pump.
On Sunday, the morning after his return, his family and fellow firefighters had settled in for what they know will be the final vigil at his bedside. Then, out of the blue, a gift of healing was offered.
It wasn’t a cure. Calvin and Terri had one need left unfulfilled, which was why they wanted to return to Bridgton before the worst could happen. They wanted to get married so that the needs of their daughter would be taken care of; towards the end, it was Calvin’s main concern.
But it was a Sunday, the town office was closed, and how would they get a marriage license when Calvin was unable to go with her to the Bridgton Municipal Complex to sign for it? Everything was happening so fast, and all these questions came tumbling out as she chatted with Charge Nurse Sally Dunning.
There had never been a wedding held inside the hospital, at least in the 30 years Sally’s worked there. No matter. She simply turned into a wedding coordinator, picked up the phone and started making calls to other hospital departments and staff. Within minutes the entire hospital was mobilized into action.
Within the hour, a wedding took place. Bridgton Fire Department Chaplain Phil Reynard rushed over after Sunday Services at Grace Baptist Church, while Bridgton Town Clerk Dawn Taft opened up the municipal complex to meet Terri, who was driven over by Fire Chief Glen Garland. But the legal logistics were just the beginning.
All the traditional touches were pulled together, too (see cutline of Terri and staff). After Calvin and Terri exchanged vows, Calvin gave a thumbs up and a big smile to his best friend and best man, Harold Woodman, the South Station’s District Fire Chief.
“I’ve had six captains work under me, and Calvin is probably the most special relationship, because we were like brothers,” Woodman said Monday at the hospital, where Calvin was recovering quietly from all the excitement.
“We realized he had declined too much and couldn’t go any further,” Woodman said. “Towards the end of it, he did cry in my arms, but he still wanted to try chemo, because he wanted to extend his life.”
“It has been really fast — I never know what to expect when I come in,” said Terri. “It’s really hard watching someone you love die in front of you. Watching them suffer day by day. This is something I wouldn’t want anyone to go through.”
But if they do, she can only hope they are able to experience it like she is, with a family within a bigger family within a bigger family still. Surrounded by love and support, going through it together.
“You don’t realize what you have for support until you turn around and see the love,” she said. “Everybody we see, when you come in and they know you got something going, they’re there. We’ve been up and down, up and down, and then we get pushed back. But this time we got pushed back too far, and there’s no way we’re going to go ahead now.”
When it gets to that point, the choice is simple, believes Sally. “You can’t always cure, but you can heal.”
Bridgton’s Junior Firefighters, which Ashley joined two months ago, have put together a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for Calvin, which will be held this Saturday, Sept. 22 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Central Fire Station. Donations can be made there or dropped off, with checks payable to BCVFA.