The Thompson family—Greg, Dana, Rita and Aaron—was overwhelmed by the support they received from the community after Aaron was diagnosed with Burkitt non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He is now in remission, and set to participate in his seventh annual St. Baldrick’s Day event in March 2015. (Photo by Janet Lanza Photography.)

Teen cancer survivor Aaron Thompson set for 7th year as St. Baldrick’s shavee

By Jessica Oates

Aaron Thompson and the Lawrence High School Bald Buddies are set to gather on Saturday, March 14 at Amalfi’s restaurant on Larewnceville-Pennington road to shave their heads in support of childhood cancer research.

This year, Thompson will be sworn in as a “Knight of the Bald Table” in honor of his seven years of dedicated participation.

The Bald Buddies’ Team Captain has been shaving his head to support the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for childhood cancer research since he was 11.

“When I first heard about the opportunity to be a ‘shavee,’ I decided to do it because I thought it would be cool to shave my head,” Thompson, now 17, said.

The following year, many of Thompson’s friends decided to join him as shavees at his encouragement. While Thompson knew the event was for a good cause, the young student hardly realized the impact he was making on childhood cancer research. Each year that Thompson and his friends participated, more and more of their peers joined them.

A few years later, the true meaning of the fundraiser suddenly became much more apparent to Thompson. At the age of 15, he was diagnosed with Burkitt non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

While the news was very shocking to Thompson and his family, they never lost hope that he would make a full recovery.

“We never thought any other way than positively,” said Dana Thompson, Aaron’s mother. “We decided to let the world in on Aaron’s diagnosis and accept whatever people were willing to do to help.”

This decision made a huge difference to the Thompson family, who are filled with gratitude towards people of the community who rallied around Aaron Thompson in support.

Thompson’s sister Rita made and distributed green lymphoma awareness bracelets. She took to social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, using #TeamAaron to update those following her brother’s cancer journey, giving them another way to show to show their support.

“Rita gave people an opportunity to show their support for me by wearing bracelets or posting photos to #TeamAaron,” Thompson said. “Some people would upload pictures of themselves with their nails painted green, the color for lymphoma, to show me that they were there for me. She went through hundreds of bracelets.”

Dana Thompson said that a CareCalendar account made it easy for her to share her family’s needs with those who wanted to help.

“If there was a night we needed a meal or Rita needed a ride somewhere, we posted it to the CareCalendar and people signed up for things they were willing and able to help out with,” she said.

Dana Thompson said this made it much more comfortable for her family to accept help from neighbors and friends. She updated everyone via email on a daily basis, telling them how Aaron was doing and thanking them for their support.

“Sometimes people want to help, but they aren’t sure how they can,” she said. “In the end, it was interesting to find that families were thanking us for sharing our story with them and for giving them a chance to help.”

When someone signed up to bring a meal over to the Thompson’s house, they’d find a cooler outside on the porch where they could leave the food if the Thompsons weren’t home to personally accept it. Even when they were home sometimes, the cooler could be heard creaking open and slamming shut with an anonymous gift.

“You may hear a lot of negative stories on the news, but this experience made us realize that there is a lot of good in the world, too. Lawrenceville is a wonderful community,” Dana Thompson said.

When Thompson was diagnosed with cancer, the LHS Bald Buddies formed to represent the high school at St. Baldrick’s head shaving events. The team consists of shavees who had participated in previous events with Thompson, as well as other students and even teachers who wanted to support him. Thompson was named team captain.

“We shave our heads in solidarity for childhood cancer patients who have lost [their hair], and to raise money for cancer research,” he said.

The first time Thompson shaved his head, he had no idea he would ever empathize so deeply with the cause. Nor did he think he would one day be honored as a Knight of the Bald Table, or chosen as an Ambassador of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.

According to the St. Baldrick’s website, the foundation selects five ambassadors every year to represent the thousands of kids touched by childhood cancer from different geographic areas, age groups, disease types and more. The ambassadors serve as a reminder that cancer doesn’t discriminate and that one in five kids diagnosed in the U.S. will not survive.

As for Thompson, his cancer is now in remission. He visits the doctor every three months for scans to make sure it stays that way.

“I never doubted that he would be better,” Dana Thompson said, “and people caught onto that optimism. We are extremely blessed.”

Thompson said he thinks it’s important for people to be able to see the faces of childhood cancer so that they can know who they are supporting when they shave their heads or donate money to the cause.

“Fortunately I have overcome cancer and I have a very positive story to tell,” Thompson said.

“It’s a very unique story,” Dana Thompson said. “To go from shaving his head for fun, to being the one people are shaving their heads in honor of, to being the most well kid of the 2015 ambassadors and being able to communicate what the disease as been like. He worked hard and had a positive outlook the whole time.”

For Thompson, the most important piece of advice he can offer cancer patients is to be optimistic.

“Definitely keep your hopes up,” he said. “You are not the only one out there, and there are lots of people supporting you and raising money to save your life.”

The high school senior said he plans to continue shaving his head every year and to form a team like the Bald Buddies in college.

To support the LHS Bald Buddies, go online to stbaldricks.org/donate/team/97653/2015. To participate as a shavee, visit Amalfi’s restaurant on March 14 between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. for a haircut. Amalfi’s is located at 146 Lawrence-Pennington Road in Lawrence.