For Lindsey’s sake: Community surrounds family as a little girl readies for a marrow transplant

 

By Cynthia Prairie

Mom Sue Willis gently handles the glass beads in Lindsey's collection.

Mom Sue Willis gently handles the glass beads in Lindsey’s collection. Click the photo to launch photo gallery./ Photos by Cynthia Prairie

 Sue Willis picks out a few of the glass beads from the wooden box marked T.K. T*, gently rubbing them in the palm of her hand. With each touch, it seems, appears a memory of what her 12-year-old daughter has been through as well as a foreshadow of what she will soon be going through once more.

Presented by the hospitals, each glass bead – deep blues orbs with white dots, clear tubes with threads of red, square white ones, a large flat orange one flecked in gold – represents a single medical treatment that Lindsey Sturtevant has had since she was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia – a cancer of the blood – more than six years ago. Strung together, they would make an extremely long and heavy necklace.

Lindsey’s first bone marrow transplant occurred when she was 6, but, says her mother, her body began rejecting it almost immediately. Now, says Willis, “The good thing is we are cancer free. It is the rejection of the bone marrow that is the problem.” Bone marrow produces platelets that in turn are important for normal growth and health.

Friday, Jan. 31, was Lindsey’s last day at Chester-Andover Elementary School before pre-treatment testing began this week at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. On Tuesday, Feb. 18, she’ll be admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital, where she’ll undergo chemotherapy for seven days before her bone marrow transplant on Wednesday, Feb. 26 . Four or so weeks of recovery will follow.

Lindsey Sturtevant happily wears her bright T-shirt from friends and teachers at Chester-Andover Elementary School.

Lindsey Sturtevant happily wears her bright T-shirt from friends and teachers at Chester-Andover Elementary School.

A parade of fire equipment

Most people in downtown Chester will tell you that Lindsey’s Friday afternoon was not uneventful.

One of her best friends, Madison Wilson, had told her father about Lindsey’s situation and the fact that she wouldn’t be in school for the rest of the year. Lindsey’s biggest concern wasn’t her school work; it was missing her friends, Madison said.

So Matt Wilson did what any dad with “fire chief” in front of his name would do. He arranged for an entourage of shiny red fire trucks with their horns blasting and lights blaring to escort the two girls from school to tour Chester before landing at the Fire House. There, the firefighters presented Lindsey with a brand new IPad Air that they had personally bought just for her. The engraved piece will enable her to keep up with her school work – and her friends – using Skype.

Before Friday’s procession, Wilson said, “The Fire Department is different from other departments. It’s a brotherhood and a sisterhood. When something happens to one, we all pull together…” That, he smiled, includes when it happens to the friend of a daughter.

Staying connected with an IPad and Skype 

It’s the first Monday in February, and the cozy home of this blended family – with six children ranging in age from 7 to 20 – is quiet, but warm and adorned with family photos.

Lindsey, navigating her new IPad with ease, is proudly wearing a bright pink T-shirt that CAES teachers signed on the front and her classmates signed on the back. Matter of factly, Lindsey says she “kinda knew something was up” at school on Friday. Then “Mom walked into the school with the fire chief” and the surprises began. Lindsey then happily shows off the desktop picture on her IPad – Lindsey is flanked by classmates Meekah Hance on the left and Madison Wilson on the right, with the bright red of a fire truck as a backdrop.

Willis, a para-educator at Green Mountain Union High, says that in Boston, she’ll be making her weekday home in Lindsey’s room, sleeping on the daybed. But she’ll be home on weekends for her husband and other children. Lindsey’s dad, Michael Sturtevant, will travel to Boston for the weekends. Once the transplant is complete, Willis says, it will take about “four weeks before bone marrow starts making blood. Still, we hope to be home by mid-April.”

As Sue looks on, Lindsey holds up her new IPad given to her by members of the Chester Fire Department so that she can Skype with school and friends while she undergoes treatment and a bone marrow transplant. Her IPad bears the photo of Meekah Hance with Lindsey and Madison Wilson.

As Sue Willis looks on, Lindsey holds up her new IPad given to her by members of the Chester Fire Department so that she can Skype with school and friends while she undergoes treatment and a bone marrow transplant. Her IPad bears the photo of Meekah Hance with Lindsey and Madison Wilson.

Needless to say, the treatments, travel, time away from work and parental absence can be stressful, but Willis smiles easily. She know what she needs to do.

Lindsey’s Skype-schooling could begin as early as this Thursday. She seems eager for that and her class is also prepared. Willis praises Lindsey’s grade 5/6 teacher Jeremy Kelloway for “fostering a supportive environment for” Lindsey. And, she notes, a counselor from Dartmouth visited CAES to talk with Lindsey’s classmates about her treatment and what they can expect as they watch her go through any ensuing physical changes, such as bloating and hair loss.

When asked what possessions she was going to take with her to the hospital, Lindsey’s eyes light up, she laughs knowingly and runs from the room. Lindsey, whose cheeks rate a 10 on the pinchability scale, returns with two stuffed animals – Cancer Stinks Bear and the pink and purple “no name yet” penguin – and her box of glass beads.

Some hospitals call them Journey Beads, others Beads of Courage. Whatever they are called, clearly Lindsey cherishes her collection as much as her mother does.

If you’d like to help

On Thursday, Feb. 6, you can show your support for Lindsey and her family in two ways:

  • From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Lisai’s Chester Market on Depot Street will be selling bulkie sandwiches from their deli, with all proceeds going to Lindsey’s upcoming medical care.
  • At Green Mountain Union High School,  the admission to the Chieftan boys varsity home game against Mid-Vermont Christian School will be donated to Lindsey’s family. And basketball coach Brian Rapanotti will donate $1 for every person who turns out for the 7 p.m. game. Kyle Kemp, Lindsey’s 16-year-old brother, is on the varsity boys team. Everyone also is encouraged to wear purple, which is Lindsey’s favorite color.

 Also

**TKT stands for Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, a camp in South Hero that caters to kids with cancer.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeFeaturedPeople

About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Frank Kelley says:

    Thanks for the posting Chester Telegraph. Family and friends, far and wide, have wondered about what makes this community reach out in such a caring, concerned way. Regrettably, there is no easy answer. This community, Chester, VT, knows that at some point we’ll all need a hand. The joy comes from being able to give, to share with someone you may or may not know, a little bit of yourself. Cherish it, continue the legacy … we’ll see you at Lisai’s or Salon 2000 in the next few days.