08/12/18 — 'We are in remission'

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'We are in remission'

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 12, 2018 3:05 AM

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Sandy Thornton, left, with daughter, Sarah Jernigan, a Southern Wayne High School student diagnosed with leukemia in March.

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Sarah Jernigan, a Southern Wayne High School student diagnosed with leukemia in March, during one of her hospitalizations for treatment.

Sarah Jernigan, the Southern Wayne High School student battling leukemia and on track for a bone marrow transplant before learning that the cancer had returned, received some encouraging news this past week.

Her mother, Sandy Thornton, texted the News-Argus with the four life-changing words -- "We are in remission."

Twists and turns have definitely filled the lives of the Mount Olive family for the past five months.

The 17-year-old was diagnosed with hypodiploid acute lymphoblastic leukemia on March 6.

Amid devastating side effects of treatment, a ray of hope shone through when the family learned that Sarah's younger sister, Savannah, 13, was a match to donate bone marrow.

Efforts ramped up for the July 16 operation.

Everything was on track.

Then came the devastating blow in early July that the cancer was back.

Treatments were scheduled, and the transplant put on hold.

Sarah was hospitalized at UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill, undergoing a 28-day regimen of chemotherapy, which recently wrapped up.

In the days since, there has been a bevy of activity in preparation for the Aug. 23 operation, Thornton said.

There have been other tests, paperwork to sign, clinic visits and related efforts to make the process run smoothly.

Sarah will be admitted back into the hospital this week, having a procedure on Tuesday to put two tubes in her chest, followed by radiation treatments the remainder of the week.

"And then she has to take this chemo treatment -- every six hours for two days, they have to wake her up, get her out of bed and give her a shower," Thornton said. "The chemo is so strong it can come out of her skin, so they make sure she has a bath round-the-clock every six hours."

Her younger daughter, meanwhile, has had her bloodwork and other medical hurdles to prepare for the surgery.

"Because they're the same blood type, they'll take it directly from Savannah to Sarah," she said.

The excitement of having things on track for the long-awaited procedure is a good thing, but not without a few trepidations, Thornton said.

"Sarah's not been off chemo since March," she explained. "The last time she went off the chemo, the cancer came back."

So the mother of four admitted she is "counting the days" and waiting to exhale.

She is mostly concerned about her two youngest but tries to take care of her health in the process.

"When I get a day off, I get a nap," she said.

With all that is going on, she has put her job at a Goldsboro Circle K on hold.

After the surgery, she said she plans to be there for the recovery process -- which potentially includes radiation treatments and a four- to six-week hospitalization followed by a 100-day stay at Ronald McDonald House in Chapel Hill.

She is also trying to keep things on an even keel for her daughters.

"They're just nervous, but Sarah's very anxious to get it going," she said on Thursday. "She wants to get this over with and get rid of her cancer."

As the time draws near for the transplant, Thornton said she has been especially grateful for the community support and prayers the family has received since their story became public.

A GoFundMe page, for Sarah's Fight Against Leukemia, was also started to aid the family with its medical bills and during Thornton's leave from her job. So far, the online effort has generated $7,432.

Her message to the community is one to keep the prayers coming on their behalf.

"I just want them to keep praying because I'm scared right now because they're taking everything (chemo) away from her," she said. "I'm real protective of her because if anybody gets sick, we're done."