Thurston for a cure

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By John Pawlak

Cancer. It’s a horrible thing. The very idea of it frightens people. Even the word is threatening. Some people call it the C-word as if careful not to say it out loud, either out of courtesy to those who have it or perhaps fear of getting it themselves (like knocking on wood). When someone contracts cancer, it consumes his or her life.

I think that if I ever got cancer, quite a few people would be quite happy and say that it couldn’t happen to a nicer person. They’d probably even send condolences to the cancer.  But hey, most of those people are relatives of mine and I’d ask you not to listen to their opinions.  I do know that if I got cancer, it wouldn’t cause much of a ripple in this world.

But Dave has caused a ripple — more like a tsunami actually. Watching how people have rallied to his aid in droves, you would think Dave was someone special. You would think that Dave was a person of some noteworthy achievement. You would think that whoever this Dave-guy is, he must have somehow touched the lives of many people.  Well, you’d be right.

Dave Thurston, a teacher at LAHS, has bone marrow cancer (acute myelogenous leukemia) and has been undergoing treatment for some time. Insurance doesn’t cover all the bills and so Dave’s students, his school and his community have joined to help raise the $10,000 needed to cover his expenses.

As a relative newcomer to LAHS, I’m impressed at the amazing stream of concern shown for Dave.

His students think the world of him and their support for him and their efforts to maintain contact with him are a true testament to the impact he made on their lives and their education. Here’s a bit of what I’ve learned over the past months.

Dave is the fourth of six children, which probably explains his comfort level with a large classroom.

At an early age, he showed an intense interest in science (I’m sure that there are some “explosive” stories his father could tell us about Dave and his chemistry set as a child). Dave is an LAHS graduate (Class of 1980) and has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in science teaching. 

What motivates a person to teach?  Dave’s father said that Dave first broached the idea midway through his studies at New Mexico Tech while backpacking in the Pecos wilderness. Perhaps the sheer cliffs, the blues skies, the incredible spectrum of flora and fauna that the New Mexican landscape provides inspired him. Or maybe he just wanted to go for the “big bucks” that teaching offers. Well, Dave’s a great teacher, but he had a lot to learn about money!

After graduating from NewMexico Tech, Dave came back to LAHS to teach science.  Using his master’s thesis, Dave developed a credit course in geology (the canyon walls of Los Alamos provide great fodder for field trips and rock throwing parties).

His years at LAHS have been exciting and fruitful. He takes great pride in his AP biology students.  Last year, not only did all of them pass the AP exam, but also half of them achieved the highest possible score.

Dave is known for his eclectic tie collection, his class iguanas (the lizards, not the students) and a relentless pursuit of academic excellence from his students. He represents what teaching is all about; touching and changing lives. And now it is his life that has been touched, by cancer.

Dave’s not alone. This year alone, nearly a million Americans will be diagnosed with some form of cancer and more than half a million will die this year from cancer. That’s 1,500 people every day. Cancer is the second most common cause of death and accounts for one out of every four deaths in America. Well, we’re not about to let Dave become a statistic. He’s a Los Alamos teacher and he’s provided years of education for our community’s youth and their future.

A fundraiser for Dave Thurston is being held at the LAHS cafeteria Dec. 11. It’s a Frito Pie Dinner (4:30 p.m.) and Silent Auction (which ends at 7 p.m.). Dinner tickets are $5.  Donated baskets of goodies and other novelties will be auctioned off (to hopefully very high bidders). Our goal is to raise $10,000 but no one will be disappointed if we exceed that by a large margin.

If you cannot attend the fundraiser but you would like to contribute, a fund has been set up at Los Alamos National Bank called the “Dave Thurston Fund.” All the money in the fund will go toward helping pay for his treatment.

Frito Pies versus cancer? Why not? One question though Dave ... red or green?