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Selectman loses son to cancer

by Lex Thomas

On March 29, longtime former Sterling resident Jeffrey Cranson, 39, the son of Sterling Selectman Maureen Cranson, lost his life to cancer. The battle was short, virulent, and devastating to his family and the hundreds of friends worldwide that knew him and have shared countless stories of his loving nature, generosity, and ability to have a significant and positive impact on everyone he met. A native of Sterling, Jeff was in the first Village Green Preschool graduating class, and attended Houghton and Chocksett schools, Wachusett Regional High School, and Worcester State University. For the past two years, Jeff had lived in Sitka, Alaska, with his fiancée Alexandria Najduch, and worked for Sitka Parks and Recreation.

In January, Jeff was diagnosed with aggressive stage IV melanoma that rapidly spread throughout his body. Two large tumors on his brain caused him to suffer a stroke. On January 27, he was transported by air ambulance from Sitka to Seattle, where he underwent emergency brain surgery to remove the tumors. On February 6, he was strong enough to be brought by Angel Flight to Boston, where he was admitted to Brigham and Women’s Hospital to begin a series of radiation treatments to reduce the swelling in his brain and retard the growth of another tumor. Three weeks later, he was moved to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Cambridge where he underwent twice-daily chemotherapy treatments, as well as speech, occupational, and physical therapy, which helped him to slowly regain some of his speech and mobility.

Jeff’s fiancée rented a small apartment near Spaulding, while the rest of his family made the daily commute from Sterling to Boston, taking turns in shifts throughout each day and night, so that he was never alone.

Just days after his 39th birthday, Jeff and his family were devastated to learn that not only had chemotherapy failed to even touch the cancer, but that the disease had spread like wildfire throughout his already frail body. He was re-admitted to Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he died a few days later.

For his parents, two sisters, and their families, the past few months have been both incredibly fast-moving and unbearably slow. But for all of them, Jeff’s death has left a gaping hole that won’t ever totally heal.

On March 7, Jeff’s sister Kristen Cranson Nelson, who maintained a website on caringbridge.org to keep family and friends informed of his progress, wrote, “Each day is a roller coaster of good moments that fill us up and sad, bad moments that suck your spirit from your body! Cancer is so angry! We are all so angry. Trying to put our anger in place to fight this unfair battle with cancer is the worst.”

Reflecting on a future without her brother, Kristen says “My heart was already conditioned to miss him when he moved to Alaska. But what’s different now is the finality.”

His mother, Maureen Cranson, thinks a lot about his travels throughout the world, and his loving and adventurous nature. “He was outdoors all the time,” she says. “He loved hiking, climbing, kayaking, everything, and he taught those skills to others.

“He spent 10 months hiking in India and in the Himalayas, and I’m still hearing from people that he met and helped on those journeys. There are just so many wonderful stories.”

What Kristen believes will stay with her forever was Jeff’s capacity for love. “I’ve come to realize that he was exactly like our grandmother, Natalie [Cranson],” she says. “He had the ability to love totally, without condition, and without judgment. That was his gift.”

Despite their grief and moments of pain that are sudden and often random, Maureen and Kristen agree that Jeff’s greatest wish would be for everyone he loved to get on with their lives, spend lots of time outdoors, and have wonderful adventures. “I don’t remember ever being this sad. But Jeff wouldn’t want us wallowing. He wouldn’t even have wanted the wake and the funeral and the reception. But he didn’t always get what he wanted,” reflects Maureen, smiling.

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