Matching donor found for Warden Gregg Sanborn

By Lisa Williams Ackley

Staff Writer

FRYEBURG — Wonderful news has been spreading through the Lake Region this week, since word was received that a stem-cell donor match has been found for Fryeburg native Major Gregg Sanborn of the Maine Warden Service.

Sanborn was diagnosed late last summer with T-cell lymphoma and was told his chances of surviving for more than a year were not favorable, unless a stem-cell transplant could be performed. So, stem-cell donor drives were sponsored by the Maine Warden Service in Orono and by the Friends of Gregg Sanborn in Fryeburg, to try to find Sanborn a matching stem-cell donor, as well as one for thousands of others through a registry.

Obviously, no one could be more buoyed up by the good news than Gregg himself, who said late Tuesday afternoon, "Things are looking up!"

"I want to thank everyone in the greater Fryeburg community for all their support, those who came to be tested as a possible stem-cell donor and for raising money for donations," said Gregg.

Asked when he got the good news, Gregg said June 25 that he received word from hospital officials in Boston that a donor match had likely been found, a few weeks earlier.

"They kind of clued me in a few weeks ago that a male, 26 years of age, was a probable match — it was more of a heads up," said Gregg. "Then, two weeks ago Friday (on June 8), they told me, 'It looks like it's going to be a go,' and they put me on a different type of chemo(therapy), because the more the cancer is under control, the better it (the stem-cell transplant procedure) works."

Yesterday (June 27) was Major Sanborn's last day of work at the Maine Warden Service for an entire year — the job he loves.

"This Friday (June 29), I'll go to Boston to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for some tests and then I'll go to Brigham and Women's Hospital (July 6), and the actual eight-day procedure starts on Monday the 9th," he said.

"Everything looks good," Gregg stated.

What was his reaction, upon receiving word that a stem-cell donor had been found?

"They prepped me a little beforehand," said Gregg. "Then I went on a fishing trip and when I got home there were a bunch of voicemails saying, 'Get in touch with us, we need to get going!' Everything looks good!"

Will Gregg get to know about and eventually meet the young man nearly half his age who will, literally, save his life?

"They won't tell me (who it is)," Gregg said. "After a year — if he signs off that it's good — I can meet him. They won't even tell me if he's from Ireland — it's kind of a mystery!"

How is Gregg doing, now that he knows the plan set out before him in order to, hopefully, bring him to full recovery from his cancer?

"It's a hurdle — I'm taking this in steps," said Gregg. "The first step was to find someone who's a match and make sure people sign up to help people in the same situation I'm in."

And the next steps?

"Now, the prep work," stated Gregg. "Friday (June 22) I was in Augusta for tests. Wednesday (June 27) is my last day of work. This Friday (June 29), is pre-admittance at Dana-Farber in Boston all day on that. Then, the drive down to Boston (for the actual procedure beginning July 9) is another step for me."

"Now, I've got to get my ducks in a row — my house in order," said Gregg. "My young fellow's (he and his wife Deborah's 21-year-old son, David) moved home to take care of the house and the dog."

Was Gregg told what the odds, or percentages, are for the stem-cell transplant being successful or not?

"They would have, if I'd asked them," said Gregg. "I didn't want to know."

As someone who's used to being in charge at his chosen profession, in which he has risen to the highest level as second in command at the Maine Warden Service, letting others "be in control" is foreign to Gregg and he fully admitted it.

"I told the doctors down there, 'Just to let you know, if this kills me, it won't be because I didn't do everything you told me to do. You're the experts. I'm putting my life in your hands.' That's where I stand, right now," he said.

Gregg also likes to be active as much as he can, both at work and at home, so the year-long recuperation process will likely be challenging for him.

"Once the 9th (of July) gets here, I'm out of commission for a year," said Gregg. "Right now, I don't feel 100%, but I'm doing things I need to do beforehand."

"The doctors told me, 'If this works, you're trading one year for 30 years or more,'" stated Gregg.

Bringing others hope

Will he stay involved in the stem-cell donor drive process?

"Oh sure," Gregg replied, without any hesitation, whatsoever. "One thing from here on out is, if this (stem-cell transplant) works, it brings back all kinds of hope to people in my position — it will let other people who find themselves in my situation know what a 'hopeful' situation it can be."

"When you get hit with this, you kind of feel hope-less — but if I get to come back cured, then they can be hope-full," said Gregg.

As for the young man who holds the key to his recovery from this life-threatening disease, Gregg said, "He and others like him provide a safety net. Stem-cell donation is my lifeline back to health. Without him — this 26-year-old guy — I wouldn't be able to do this."

"The 9th (of July) will be here soon enough," Gregg said. "I'm happy — I'm a little anxious, I have a little nervousness and a little stress. Everything beyond the 9th (of July) will be beyond my control — and that's not me. In my profession, I show up on a scene and everyone looks to me to be in charge. On the 9th, I have no control — zero. That's a different mind set for me. The doctors are in control — let's hope it works!"

In early May, just before the Fryeburg stem-cell donor drive was held, Gregg told The Bridgton News, "The only thing that matters to me is that, a year from now, we do a story that I'm cancer-free, and I'm able to go trout fishing, mow the lawn and go to work."

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