Tenants Harbor builder helps grant wish while facing cancer
Tenants Harbor — Tom Armitage had just finished his first chemotherapy treatment when he was asked to help grant a wish for a local Make-A-Wish child. Not many people knew that Armitage himself was battling cancer.
Armitage has metastatic prostate cancer. He was diagnosed in 2010 and tries to manage the incurable disease, he said. He has gone through radiation and was beginning his last treatment option – chemotherapy – when the call came to help a Wish child, Lydia.
Lydia, 11, of St. George, had undergone chemotherapy herself for leukemia. Her wish was for an art studio.
Armitage has done volunteer work in the community with his company, Harbor Builders Associates of Tenants Harbor, like building wheelchair ramps, he said, but this was the first time he was asked to help grant a wish. Jake Miller, branch manager of First National Bank in Rockland, had recommended him as the builder for the wish.
Armitage said he was excited to help grant the wish and “it didn’t take much convincing.”
“I would have done it anyway, but it gave it more meaning and more importance – I did it on a much deeper level,” he said.
Armitage met with Lydia to learn about her wish – and she shared her own plans for the 12-by-20-foot cottage, which became Lydia’s Craft Cottage. As she explained the design of the studio, she told Armitage how much she loved art and wanted a place to do it, he said.
“She drew it and we made it look exactly like the drawing,” he said, down to the mint-colored door and matching window box.
The cottage was built mostly off site in Harbor Builders' shop, then reconstructed and finished at Lydia’s family’s home. They wanted to be able to surprise her with as much of a finished product as they could. They were on site for three days completing the project and Lydia was able to watch it be finished.
Armitage participates in the work-release program with the Maine State Prison’s Bolduc Correctional Facility and two workers helped with the cottage. He said he was struck by their enthusiasm for the project.
“It was touching that they treated this so personally,” he said. “They were thrilled to be a part of it.”
Armitage said he received support from Viking Lumber and EBS Building Supplies and the two companies were able to get their suppliers to donate materials for the build. Rankin’s Hardware and Building Supply in Camden donated the door for the cottage.
The cottage’s interior has the fold-down table and book shelves that Lydia had included in her plans, and Make-A-Wish volunteers decorated the inside, he said.
After seeing the finished product, Lydia told him, “It looks just like my drawing,” he said.
Armitage said he talked with Lydia a little about chemotherapy.
“She said that it’s hard at first, but it gets easier,” he said. Armitage smiled remembering the conversation and admitted that he had had the exact opposite experience. “It got tougher as it went on.”
After the wish was granted, Armitage received a thank-you note from Lydia. She included a quote from Robert H. Schuller, “Tough times never last, but tough people do” and she wrote:
“Tom, I know how hard it is to experience your first few chemo treatments, and I want you to know I really appreciate you working on my wish while going through that. I am sure you got my letter to your company but I felt I needed to thank you personally. Keep fighting.”
During the first weekend in October, Armitage showed that fighting spirit, participating in his sixth Dempsey Challenge. He usually cycles 50 miles, but this year he did 25, and said “It truly was a challenge this year.” He was the second-highest individual fundraiser for the event, bringing in $16,897.
For now, Armitage is focused on maintaining his quality of life. He’s looking into options for a clinical trial, he said.
“I’m keeping my eyes open for anything that can help me and keeping it all in perspective,” he said.
Armitiage said he thinks being a part of granting Lydia’s wish helped him as much as it did her.
“I think there is a preordained order to things in life and I was asked to build this for a reason,” he said.
The Courier-Gazette and The Camden Herald will present the Knox County Best of the Best Gala to benefit Make-a-Wish at The Samoset Resort Wednesday, Nov. 16, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. As part of the event a silent auction is held with all proceeds donated to Make-a-Wish to grant a wish to a child.