Graduates to Watch

Bonny Eagle graduate Nicole Printy plans to study psychology at University of Southern Maine and become a social worker helping pediatric oncology patients. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Last month Nicole Printy officially became a survivor.

Three years after she experienced the first symptoms of acute myeloid leukemia, Printy is cancer-free and will graduate cum laude with her class at Bonny Eagle High School.

Pains in her left leg cropped up near the end of her freshman year and went undiagnosed until she became seriously ill that summer. The cause surprised many.

“It’s typical of old men,” Printy said of AML, a bone marrow cancer that strikes at age 68 on average and is slightly more common in men.

She tackled an arduous chemotherapy regimen that made her a regular at Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland for several months.

Five rounds of chemotherapy. Each lasting three to 10 days and accompanied by terrible side effects. Each followed by three weeks of in-patient recovery to protect her weakened immune system. Between each round, she had a week’s reprieve to recover at home.

“I spent most of my sophomore year in the hospital, but I did complete a few classes,” said Printy, 17, of Buxton.

She returned to school full time as a junior, eager to make up classes she had missed. Again, she surprised many.

“I really wanted to get back to normal,” she said. “It was important for me to graduate with all my friends.”

She also resumed competitive training in jukado, a mixed martial art she has practiced since age 6. She overcame the setback of her illness to attain a 2nd degree brown belt and become an assistant instructor.

“I had to regain my muscle strength because there were some moves I could no longer do,” she said.

Printy said she’s grateful for the support of her family, friends, teachers and others who helped her through her ordeal, especially the late Brooks Clark, who died last fall. He was her English teacher during her junior year.

“He helped everyone,” Printy said, pausing to contain her emotions, “not just me.”

When Bonny Eagle held a fundraiser to help cover her medical bills, Printy handled the unsolicited spotlight with characteristic humility and grace. She used cash that was left over to buy gift cards for other teens who were still in treatment.

“I remembered how I enjoyed shopping online when I was stuck in the hospital,” she said. “It made me feel normal.”

Printy plans to study psychology at the University of Southern Maine and become a social worker helping pediatric oncology patients.

“I want to do what people in the hospital did for me,” she said. “The social workers who helped me – Beth, Dee-Dee and Liz – they inspired me to take this route.”