2018-06-07 / Front Page

Leader faces latest challenge: cancer

Head of Leelanau Montessori
By Amy Hubbell
of the Enterprise staff


ERIC ROYSTON, head of school at the Leelanau Montessori Charter Academy, began treatment for Stage 4 pancreatic cancer this week. ERIC ROYSTON, head of school at the Leelanau Montessori Charter Academy, began treatment for Stage 4 pancreatic cancer this week. While a Marine young Eric Royston pledged to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Twenty years later, the head of school at Leelanau Montessori Charter Academy is in the fight of his life — against cancer.

Royston, 46, who is much-loved by Montessori students and parents, was diagnosed May 17 with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

“It was like getting kicked in the gut,” he said. “It’s still pretty raw.”

A routine physical detected elevated liver enzymes in his blood. Follow-up tests for hepatitis were negative.

However, an ultrasound and CT scan revealed lesions in his pancreas, liver, spleen and colon.

A biopsy confirmed the diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer.

The father of five and Bingham Township resident, Royston said he had some nondescript symptoms — upset stomach, indigestion and constipation — that he chalked up to stress.


THE COMMUNITY is rallying behind the Royston family after Eric Royston, head of school for the Leelanau Montessori Charter School Academy’s diagnosis with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Pictured (back row, from left) are Braden, Emmersyn and Maison Royston; (front row, from left) Keegen, Eric, his wife, Rachel and son, Gavin. THE COMMUNITY is rallying behind the Royston family after Eric Royston, head of school for the Leelanau Montessori Charter School Academy’s diagnosis with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Pictured (back row, from left) are Braden, Emmersyn and Maison Royston; (front row, from left) Keegen, Eric, his wife, Rachel and son, Gavin. He’s been working diligently for the past year, leading the charter academy’s effort to purchase the Connie Binsfeld Resource Center in Lake Leelanau. After renovations the center is eyed as a new home for the Montessori school.

In preparation for chemotherapy that begins today, Royston had a port surgically placed in his chest Friday. A combination of four different drugs will be administered to shrink the tumors.

“We’re hoping the tumors show signs of slowing, stopping and shrinking,” he said.

The chemo cocktail will include a new drug which has proven effective in fighting the tough-to-treat disease.

Results of the clinical trials for the drug folfirinox were revealed Monday at the 2018 American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago.

After an average three years of follow up, nearly 40 percent of patients treated with the drug were disease-free compared with about 20 percent who were treated with a standard cancer-fighting drug, according to study results.

Royston said he’s hopeful that the tumors will shrink enough for him to be eligible for a “Whipple procedure,” a complex operation to remove the head of the pancreas, first part of the small intestine, gallbladder and bile duct.

Royston acknowledges the surgery could result in other medical consequences, such as diabetes.

“I could become diabetic, but it’s better than being dead,” he said.

Royston and his wife, Rachel, were in the Detroit area yesterday where a friend had secured a consultation with a doctor at Henry Ford Hospital.

The family relocated to the county in the summer of 2016 when he was named head of school at Leelanau Montessori. His father is retired Leland Township fire chief Rick Royston.

Eric served in the Marine Corps from 1990 through 1996 with assignments in Okinawa, Japan; northern Scotland and at Twentynine Palms, Calif..

He graduated from Michigan State University in 1999 with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in curriculum and teaching and later earned a second master’s in education with a focus in Montessori from St. Catherine University.

The Roystons have two adult sons — Maison, 25, and Braden, 24 — who live in the Lansing area.

Their three younger children, Emmersyn, Gavin and Keegen, will enter seventh, ninth and 11th grade, respectively, at Leland in September.

Since his arrival in the county, Royston has become known outside the Montessori community as a high school and middle school official for soccer and basketball.

His network of friends also includes the Leland and Suttons Bay school communities and the Suttons Bay- Leelanau County Rotary Club, which have rallied around him and his family in their time of need.

“I couldn’t be more grateful for the support we’ve received,” he said, adding that there’s been words of encouragement from many. “They say, ‘You do you for a while.’ I’ve never done ‘me,’ It’s never been about me, so it’s hard.

“I’m happy Rachel gets to have that as well.”

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