How a young man is fighting leukemia with a little help from his friends

Corey Laplume, 18, was supposed to graduate today — Friday — from Spaulding High School in Rochester, N.H., directly over the border from Maine. He is in the hospital, however, with blood clots in his lungs. It is the latest medical problem for a young man who was first diagnosed with leukemia in 2009. But his Maine friends want to help.

Corey learned he had acute lymphocytic leukemia — cancer of the blood and bone marrow — five weeks before his freshman year of high school, his father, Dana Laplume, said.

Dana, his wife, Vicki, and Corey live in New Hampshire but have many ties to Maine — friends, people they know through work, and some painful memories — as Corey has been treated at Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland. Corey was supposed to attend the Central Maine Community College’s Automotive Technology Ford ASSET Program in the fall, his father said, but he will likely delay his plans.

On Wednesday, June 26, Volk Packaging Corp. in Biddeford will organize a bone marrow registry drive. Derek Volk, who is friends with Dana Laplume, is president of the company. His wife is Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough. The drive will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the packaging company, located at 11 Morin St., Biddeford.

Testing involves a swab of the inside of the cheek. No blood is drawn at the drive. Donors between the ages of 18 and 44 can register there. Donors age 45 to 60 are required to preregister online at www.ribc.org/BeTheMatch. When people join the drive, they become possible matches in the future for someone with a blood cancer like leukemia or lymphoma.

“If you’re not Corey’s match, you could be somebody else’s match,” his father said. Corey was unable to be interviewed because he’s hospitalized.

Corey Laplume speaks at the University of New Hampshire’s Relay for Life event in the fall of 2011.

Since he was diagnosed on July 27, 2009, when he was 14, Corey has been a fighter, his father said. He had 27 spinal taps in three-and-a-half years and took daily medications — as many as 52 pills per night. The chemotherapy weakened him and dropped him down to 75 pounds. He created a Facebook page, which has 8,638 likes, called “I wish cancer would get cancer and die.”

“You watch your son, who’s been running around on a soccer field, who’s been totally healthy — no allergies, anything — to all of a sudden being more or less bedridden and dealing with neuropathy,” his father said. He described it as “complete devastation.”

But then in December 2012, Corey’s health improved, and he was taken off treatment. Most youth with acute lymphocytic leukemia don’t relapse.

After having follow-up blood work done on April 12, he was given a clean bill of health. He had been active — working two jobs and going to the gym. Then several weeks later, he began complaining about leg pain, his father said. He thought it was from exercising and went to bed. But Corey didn’t sleep. At 6:30 a.m. he said his legs were still bothering him. By 8:15 a.m., he couldn’t walk.

When his parents brought him to the emergency room, he learned his white blood cell count had gone from around 4,000, which is normal, to 39,000, which is extremely abnormal. The pain he had been experiencing was due to malignant white blood cells pushing through his bone marrow.

Over the last month, he’s had surgeries and gone through round after round of chemo — which results in nausea, low blood pressure, a high heart rate and extreme weight loss.

“One day at a time. We live one day at a time because that’s all we can do right now,” Dana said.

“My wife has a saying: ‘You never know how strong you are until strength is your only option,’ and that’s the motto we live by.”

Erin Rhoda

About Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is a writer and storyteller. As editorial page editor of the Bangor Daily News, she writes the newspaper's opinion on matters from Kittery to Fort Kent.