Twelve years is a long time to live with cancer. Brookfield Police Lt. Tom Vento describes it as having an anvil hanging over his household.
But he doesn't want it to define him.
A husband and father of two boys, 15 and 16, he has continued working for the City of Brookfield Police Department through every year of battling a rare genital cancer.
When Waukesha police officers asked him to accept a donation from their annual basketball fundraiser Friday, April 4, he wasn't sure how he felt about it.
"To be chosen, it's humbling, it's an honor," Vento said. "In my job, I see that there's a lot worse going on out there, and I don't see myself as a guy in need because of that. I manage. The lights turn on when I hit the switch, there's always toilet paper on the roll."
Waukesha Police Sgt. Jerry Habanek was happy to hear to him accept. Vento has helped his department with several trainings.
"If you think about it, that's to many of us pretty laudable to be able to fight that hard a disease that keeps coming back and still contribute to your community by being a police officer," Habanek said.
Vento said he has had 14 surgeries over the past 12 years, many of which were aimed at lymph nodes where the cancer had spread. He has used up sick days, vacation days and holidays to spend time in surgery and recovering. Statistically, he said, he shouldn't still be alive.
"When someone goes through cancer like that, it affects his entire life," Habanek said. "His kids have grown up in that environment; his marriage has lasted through that. As far as we're concerned, whatever he decides to do with that money is good. We're just hoping he continues fighting the fight with us."
Vento thanked the officers for their contribution during halftime at the basketball game, which pitted police against firefighters in a tight game that ended with a 66-64 win for the cops.
Habanek did not have a count of the money raised by press deadline, but Vento said he would like to set aside any money he gets for his kids' educations. He has been able to use money from previous fundraisers to help with medical bills.
"For a 12-year period, there's been no real opportunity to save for the emergency or rainy day," Vento said. "Over time the financial drain is tremendous. We are eternally grateful."
Vento said he hopes people won't treat him any differently.
"This tore me down to the core, but we've been built back up and we've had to learn to live with this issue," he said. "If you put too much focus on it, it just grinds on you. You certainly don't live for the cancer."
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