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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Sarah Thompson chronicles her pain and pleasure

  • Sarah Thompson cuddles with her son Lysander, 4, after they played with legos on Friday, February 28, 2014.  Sarah, who is originally from Concord, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, then was in remission and feeling hopeful, and now needs a bone marrow transplant. NH Technical Institute will hold a marrow drive as part of its Wellness Fair on April 1. <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Sarah Thompson cuddles with her son Lysander, 4, after they played with legos on Friday, February 28, 2014. Sarah, who is originally from Concord, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, then was in remission and feeling hopeful, and now needs a bone marrow transplant. NH Technical Institute will hold a marrow drive as part of its Wellness Fair on April 1.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • Sarah Thompson folds the laundry in her sons' room at their home in Georgetown, Maine on Friday, February 28, 2014.  Sarah, who is originally from Concord, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, then was in remission and feeling hopeful, and now needs a bone marrow transplant. NH Technical Institute will hold a marrow drive as part of its Wellness Fair on April 1. <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Sarah Thompson folds the laundry in her sons' room at their home in Georgetown, Maine on Friday, February 28, 2014. Sarah, who is originally from Concord, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, then was in remission and feeling hopeful, and now needs a bone marrow transplant. NH Technical Institute will hold a marrow drive as part of its Wellness Fair on April 1.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • Wallace Thompson, 7, listens to his mom Sarah read the Hobbit to him at their home in Georgetown, Maine on Friday, February 28, 2014.  Sarah, who is originally from Concord, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, then was in remission and feeling hopeful, and now needs a bone marrow transplant. NH Technical Institute will hold a marrow drive as part of its Wellness Fair on April 1.  Wallace and his brother Lysander, 4, are both home schooled.  <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Wallace Thompson, 7, listens to his mom Sarah read the Hobbit to him at their home in Georgetown, Maine on Friday, February 28, 2014. Sarah, who is originally from Concord, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, then was in remission and feeling hopeful, and now needs a bone marrow transplant. NH Technical Institute will hold a marrow drive as part of its Wellness Fair on April 1. Wallace and his brother Lysander, 4, are both home schooled.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • Sarah Thompson practices playing her banjo at her home in Georgetown, Maine on Friday, February 28, 2014.  Sarah, who is originally from Concord, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, then was in remission and feeling hopeful, and now needs a bone marrow transplant. NH Technical Institute will hold a marrow drive as part of its Wellness Fair on April 1.  Going through chemotherapy has weakened her muscles and makes it difficult to play for very long. <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Sarah Thompson practices playing her banjo at her home in Georgetown, Maine on Friday, February 28, 2014. Sarah, who is originally from Concord, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, then was in remission and feeling hopeful, and now needs a bone marrow transplant. NH Technical Institute will hold a marrow drive as part of its Wellness Fair on April 1. Going through chemotherapy has weakened her muscles and makes it difficult to play for very long.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • Sarah Thompson looks through a magazine as her son Wallace, 7, peeks over the top while her husband John and their other son Lysander, 4, ate lunch at their home in Georgetown, Maine on Friday, February 28, 2014.  Sarah, who is originally from Concord, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, then was in remission and feeling hopeful, and now needs a bone marrow transplant. NH Technical Institute will hold a marrow drive as part of its Wellness Fair on April 1. <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Sarah Thompson looks through a magazine as her son Wallace, 7, peeks over the top while her husband John and their other son Lysander, 4, ate lunch at their home in Georgetown, Maine on Friday, February 28, 2014. Sarah, who is originally from Concord, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, then was in remission and feeling hopeful, and now needs a bone marrow transplant. NH Technical Institute will hold a marrow drive as part of its Wellness Fair on April 1.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • Sarah Thompson cuddles with her son Lysander, 4, after they played with legos on Friday, February 28, 2014.  Sarah, who is originally from Concord, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, then was in remission and feeling hopeful, and now needs a bone marrow transplant. NH Technical Institute will hold a marrow drive as part of its Wellness Fair on April 1. <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Sarah Thompson folds the laundry in her sons' room at their home in Georgetown, Maine on Friday, February 28, 2014.  Sarah, who is originally from Concord, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, then was in remission and feeling hopeful, and now needs a bone marrow transplant. NH Technical Institute will hold a marrow drive as part of its Wellness Fair on April 1. <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Wallace Thompson, 7, listens to his mom Sarah read the Hobbit to him at their home in Georgetown, Maine on Friday, February 28, 2014.  Sarah, who is originally from Concord, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, then was in remission and feeling hopeful, and now needs a bone marrow transplant. NH Technical Institute will hold a marrow drive as part of its Wellness Fair on April 1.  Wallace and his brother Lysander, 4, are both home schooled.  <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Sarah Thompson practices playing her banjo at her home in Georgetown, Maine on Friday, February 28, 2014.  Sarah, who is originally from Concord, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, then was in remission and feeling hopeful, and now needs a bone marrow transplant. NH Technical Institute will hold a marrow drive as part of its Wellness Fair on April 1.  Going through chemotherapy has weakened her muscles and makes it difficult to play for very long. <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Sarah Thompson looks through a magazine as her son Wallace, 7, peeks over the top while her husband John and their other son Lysander, 4, ate lunch at their home in Georgetown, Maine on Friday, February 28, 2014.  Sarah, who is originally from Concord, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, then was in remission and feeling hopeful, and now needs a bone marrow transplant. NH Technical Institute will hold a marrow drive as part of its Wellness Fair on April 1. <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

Three years in, Sarah Thompson’s blog about her fight with leukemia says it all.

She documents what she feels, the ironic sense of liberation, her heightened appreciation for simplicity and, of course, her fears, all rolled into one.

“The last three or four posts are from this latest treatment period,” she said recently. “My blogs go back to immediately after my first treatment, everything I thought, the things I don’t think about anymore, it’s all there.”

Thompson grew up in Concord and attended the Challenger launch as a member of Scott McAuliffe’s third-grade class. She graduated from St. Paul’s School and the University of New Hampshire.

Now 37, Thompson lives in Georgetown, Maine, with her husband, John, and their two boys, 4-year-old Lysander and 8-year-old Wallace.

Her mother, Debbie Carley, still lives in Concord and wrote us looking for a plug about the Wellness Fair on April 1 at NHTI. The school agreed to host a bone marrow screening after Carley asked for help.

A swab of the cheek, and you’re in the data bank. If you’re a match, you might save Thompson’s life. She said her Northern European ancestry improves her chances of finding a match, and she’s been told that should happen in six to eight weeks.

A successful transplant allows a return to most normal activities, generally after a year.

“Chemotherapy is hell,” reads Thompson’s blog entry from Feb. 2. “It feels conceived, truly, by the devil. It kills you slowly, from the inside, while your body helplessly and continuously inflames from its already impaired status. . .”

Her life is peaceful in Maine, despite the turmoil that’s engulfed her for nearly four years.

She gives everything she says a lot of thought, relaying information and opinions in a measured, calm tone. She lives on an island a few miles north of Bath, a port city with giant cranes and small homes packed tightly together.

Her home is a one-floor cabin, with a 19th-century piano that needs tuning and a woodstove in a fireplace, which she nurtures with a blast from a bellows every so often.

One day last week, Thompson sat near the stove, her shaved head covered with a green scarf, her thin body covered with a long, brown sweater coat.

She showed me a map of Maine, pointing out Georgetown, on Robinhood Cove. The town is secluded, shown on the map amidst fingerlike projections and other islands that hug Maine’s coast.

The family moved here four years ago, from a farm in western Maine, on the border of Sanford and North Berwick. It’s here that Thompson’s life has changed, spiraling downward, back up and then down again.

After just two weeks of chemotherapy, tests showed the cancer – officially called acute myeloid leukemia – was in remission.

Two weeks later, in October 2010, another biopsy showed the cancer cells had not returned. Three more rounds of chemo after that wiped the cancer away.

“I felt like there was nothing I couldn’t do,” Thompson said. “It made me feel rebuilt. The idea of going through something so hard and realizing I could do it made me feel that the cancer came to teach me something, and I had learned it.”

Three years passed. Thompson learned how to play the banjo. Her hair grew back.

“It’s the little stuff that wears. I can easily handle all of this; certainly there are many people in the world who endure much more for much longer, without complaint. And I don’t have much to complain about, given the rewards of going through this treatment.”

She relapsed six weeks ago. “Humbling,” she called the news. “I learned that cancer strikes where it wants to. The other thing is it’s shaken my confidence in everything, and that’s something I’m trying to get back.

“The first time, I felt shock, scared,” she continued. “Now I’m angry, the injustice of it all.”

She spent three weeks in a hospital in Portland, Maine, and got home two weeks ago. Now that the leukemia is back, chemo is not enough. She needs a bone marrow match, followed by a transplant.

If a match is found, she’ll have the transplant at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Meanwhile, she’s still blogging.

“I write when my thoughts are complete,” she says. “My writing is a reflection of me at that moment. Sometimes it’s a reflection of my psychological balance.”

Some of her entries are surprising, perhaps thoughts that only someone with a disease such as this one can feel.

Like her awareness that reliving her discomfort through all this is self-destructive, an awful waste of energy, and how grateful she is that she knows it.

And how her soul had been nourished by breast-feeding her two boys, a fact that’s been crystallized because she had to stop once the cancer came.

And how there is no shame in accepting help from family and friends, that it’s not a sign of weakness, but instead something that makes your life easier and makes your loved ones feel better as well.

“People often remark to me their amazement at my physical and emotional strength during this process; how could it be otherwise with the support that I have had? One of the greatest gifts I have received is learning to receive, to allow friends and neighbors to share their gifts and to participate in the healing process.”

“I have to think of gifts that are important to them and feel good to them,” Thompson said the other day. “I have to give thought to it.”

Thompson expects to undergo the transplant sometime in April, as long as her match is found in the six- to eight-week time frame she was told.

Meanwhile, she’ll find added meaning in little things and blog about what she found.

“My son made a drawing of a worm for me. I used it to remind myself to inch along.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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