‘Hasta la vista’

  • ConVal's Class of 2017 graduated Saturday, June 17, 2017. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • ConVal's Class of 2017 graduated Saturday, June 17, 2017. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • ConVal's Class of 2017 graduated Saturday, June 17, 2017. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript)

  • ConVal's Class of 2017 graduated Saturday, June 17, 2017. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • ConVal's Class of 2017 graduated Saturday, June 17, 2017. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • ConVal's Class of 2017 graduated Saturday, June 17, 2017. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • ConVal's Class of 2017 graduated Saturday, including Elle Walton, right, who battled cancer and vision loss during her time in high school. Valerie St. Amand is on the left. Staff photo by Abby Kessler

  • ConVal's Class of 2017 graduated Saturday, June 17, 2017. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • ConVal's Class of 2017 graduated Saturday, June 17, 2017. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • ConVal's Class of 2017 graduated Saturday, June 17, 2017. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • ConVal's Class of 2017 graduated Saturday, June 17, 2017. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/20/2017 10:37:39 AM

With the help of her family, Calle Walton blew up a balloon, covered it with papier-mache, spray-painted it bright pink, covered it in sequins and filled it with candy. They stuck coiled-up pipe cleaners onto the ball and with foam stickers wrote “Hasta la vista, tumor.”

Once the pinata was finished, they hung it from a tree outside the house, and Walton smashed it with a baseball bat during a combined celebratory cancer-free and high school graduation party at her childhood home in Peterborough.

“It felt so good,” Walton said while listening to a recording her mom, Tracey Bean, had taken on her phone of the smashing. “Every time I hear that noise (sound of pinata breaking) it’s just such a satisfying noise. Because it feels like I did it.”

‘Lasting, loving relationships’

Walton was one of 200 ConVal High School seniors who graduated Saturday under a flat sky on an athletic field near the school.

Walton sat with her longtime friend Valerie St. Amand during the ceremony.

“[Valerie] cried when I was diagnosed with cancer and she cried even harder when I told her I was cancer-free,” Walton said about her friend.

St. Amand helped Walton through the ceremony, guiding her up to the ramp to receive her diploma. Walton walked across the stage alone, with the help of her cane and administrators who guided her along the platform. At the end, St. Amand was there with an arm and the two marched back to their seats together.

Eric Bowman, a history teacher, spoke during the commencement. He cautioned seniors about living in a world filled with irony and sarcasm. He urged seniors to be more serious and sincere.

“We can move beyond shallow living and experience real joy recognizing, for example, that sensual satisfaction will be no substitute for lasting, loving relationships, or that creating something will be far more satisfying than buying something,” Bowman said during the ceremony.

Near the end of commencement, Walton and St. Amand stood up together, they crossed their tassels over to the other side of their caps and tossed them up high when the time came.

‘I just don’t want to do this anymore’

Walton was in third grade when she started having trouble seeing. Bean took her to the eye doctor and the appointment led to another in Manchester where they found a mass on Walton’s optic nerve. A MRI, led to a biopsy, which ended up with a diagnosis of sarcoidosis, a disease which causes inflammation.

For about eight years, Walton has been taking different drugs to keep the tumor in check.

“[The tumor] wasn’t necessarily growing a lot, it was just sort of stable,” Walton said. “It wasn’t going away but not doing anything necessarily.”

The tumor grew in a spot that pressed on her optic nerve and diminished her vision. For years, she had no peripheral vision in her right eye, but could see straight on (enough to read large print), and she had peripheral vision in her left eye but no straight-on vision.

This past fall, Walton started noticing her eyesight was getting worse.

“It kind of all went,” Walton said.

Bean said the decline happened quickly.

Walton was hospitalized and doctors ended up doing another biopsy. It turned out that she had been misdiagnosed for all those years and the doctors said it was cancer caused by a birth defect.

Walton then spent much of her senior year receiving chemotherapy and radiation.

“Chemo was hell,” Walton said. “That’s the only word I can think of to describe it. It was terrible.”

She would get an awful taste in her mouth that made her not want to eat, she got mouth sores, and was nauseous. She lost all of her hair. 

A month after chemotherapy was over, Walton underwent five weeks of beam pinpoint radiation. It hit her hard, and the treatment made her sick.

“It was rough,” Bean said. “Really rough.” 

Bean said she took time off from work and was able to be there for most of the treatment, although there were a few days of radiation she had to call in family for back up.

When she wasn’t at the hospital, Walton had to cope with completely losing her vision, which meant relearning even the most basic tasks.

“When I first lost my sight, I cried a lot and just thought, ‘There’s no way. I just don’t want to do this anymore,’” Walton said.

She had to cope with giving up some of her dreams, like pursuing a degree in architecture or interior design. She was learning how to drive but had to give that up, too.

‘I’m not alone’

She said her family, and especially her mom, helped her through those tough times.

With their encouragement, Walton started the process of relearning the things she had once known so well, like how to get around her home, and the school she had attended for four years.

To help, Walton had a mobility teacher who taught her cane techniques and helped her learn a little bit of echolocation. She’s also in the process of learning Braille and touch typing.

She’s planning to attend a camp for the blind in Vermont this summer, and a transitional school in Canada this fall or winter to learn the everyday skills she will need to be independent in the future.

Walton has also started creating new dreams.

She said she had an internship at Peterborough Elementary School when she was a junior, and lately has been thinking of making teaching into a career.

Maybe, she said, she’ll be a Braille teacher.

“I want to be a person that they can look up to and say, ‘I’m not alone,’ and I can be a friend to them and help them through the hard times,” Walton said of the possible career choice.

But then she thinks about it and says she’s also kicking around the idea of being a regular kindergarten teacher.

“I want to get to them early and show them that I’m blind, but I can still do everything that you can do,” Walton said. “I want them to know that you shouldn’t let anything get you down, and no matter how people look or act, everyone can do it.”

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com. Follow her on Twitter @akesslerMLT.


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