A few months ago, after a decade-long struggle with his own health and his wife’s, Don Winslow was finally feeling good.
New medications for his Parkinson’s disease had made a big difference. His tremors were greatly reduced. He had energy and most of all a sense of optimism — cautious optimism perhaps — but optimism nonetheless.
It was 10 years ago while Winslow was the chief of the Bangor Police Department that he first noticed the tremor in his thumb and eventually learned of the Parkinson’s diagnosis. A year later, his wife, Dora, was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2010, they were both battling cancer — he in his head and neck, and she in her ovaries.
But last fall, they were both healthy and feeling like they actually had come out on the other side of a long nightmare.
After learning that Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross was not going to run again next November, Winslow, who just turned 57, began to believe he might be able to reclaim the very important part of his life that was his law enforcement career.
“I miss being in the know and being part of that whole community, and I really felt that my experience as an officer for so many years and as the chief in Bangor would serve the people of Penobscot County well. I was feeling good, and I was ready to reclaim that part of my life,” he said this week. “Dora was so excited. She saw a spark in my eye again. It had been gone for a very long time.”
Then he started to feel a little tired. The once avid runner found himself easily winded from time to time.
Not a reason to panic for most of us, but for those who have battled cancer once and are well-schooled on recurrence rates, fear and worry set in pretty fast.
With a trip to Bangor and Boston, a diagnosis set the well-known and well-loved couple reeling once again.
Winslow has cancer in his lungs. It is not operable, and his options are very limited.
Earlier this week, he announced his diagnosis and withdrew from the sheriff’s race.
“We’re pretty well versed when it comes to cancer,” Winslow told me. “We know what we’re dealing with and certainly, the sheriff’s race was out. I need to concentrate on my health and my family.”
On Thursday, we met for food and drinks at a local restaurant. One by one, off-duty members and former members of the Police Department drifted in to join us. Members of the community dropped by the table to shake his hand and offer their best wishes and words of encouragement.
“What is the game plan?” one asked.
“Well, I’m working that out with God right now,” Winslow responded with a gentle smile.
There is a clinical trial in Boston he could participate in, but it would mean spending a great deal of time away from his family. And it would most likely only offer him an additional couple of months.
He has dismissed the idea.
He may give “extreme chemo” a try for a short period of time to see if it will make a difference without making him too ill.
Or he just might live his life.
His daughter was scheduled to marry in September and has moved her wedding up to the end of March so that “I’ll still be feeling good,” he said.
Her decision to do so clearly has touched him deeply and made him proud.
The Winslows, by the way, raised a couple of great women.
On Thursday, in between catching me up on his diagnosis and his thoughts on facing this latest and most difficult twist, a joke would be cracked at the end of the table and an old Bangor Police Department story would ensue.
There was a lot of, “Hey remember the time …” and a lot of laughter.
He is grateful for the support of his fellow officers and the entire community — hundreds of people who have turned out to support the couple over the past 10 years.
“I don’t want people to pity me. I’ve had an incredibly blessed life. I know that this is easier for me than it is for the people around me. I’m extremely grateful for all I’ve had, for my career with Bangor PD, for my family and for my friends who I simply cherish. I do know that I’m not going through this final journey alone,” he said.
When Winslow was appointed chief in 1998 there was a lot of turmoil within the department. He quietly and patiently led his officers and staff through it and retired in 2007 as probably one of the most respected police chiefs in the history of the department — respected by his staff, the City Council and the community.
As I left the table on Thursday, leaving him to enjoy the fun and friendship of his former co-workers, it was clear that Don Winslow was taking the lead again and preparing to care for and guide them through this difficult journey that they are all on.
There will be a benefit spaghetti dinner for Don Winslow at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, March 15, at Jeff’s Catering in Brewer. For tickets, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can reach Renee Ordway at email@example.com.