Rumford native Matt Carrier talks Thursday about his “To Ring the Bell” at the Rumford Public Library. The book includes journal entries, poetry, drawings, photos and letters about surviving cancer twice. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times

RUMFORD — Rumford native Matt Carrier read passages from his book “To Ring the Bell” on Thursday afternoon at the Rumford Public Library and talked about his two bouts of cancer when he was 21 and 41.

Some of the 40 or so people gathered at the library included his family, past neighbors, teachers and friends he grew up with in Rumford.

He resides in Tennessee with his wife, Abby, and their two cats.

His first bout with the disease was a brain tumor. Twenty years later, what he and his doctors thought was a severe sinus infection turned out to be squamous cell carcinoma in his sinus.

The book features poems, short stories, photos, letters and drawings to describe his experiences of surviving cancer and seeking to find joy in every moment of life, even when life is difficult.

Carrier said that just three weeks before a major surgery in July 2021, in which he would lose his left eye and part of his face, his brother Kevin asked how he was feeling. Matt said one of his major concerns was what his young nieces and nephews would think of him after his surgery.

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Choking back his emotions, he said, “I thought they would think that I’d look like a zombie.”

Those feelings led to the drawing in his book of a face without an eye and his poem titled “16 Days,” about his thoughts on the upcoming surgery and how his life would be changed forever.

On another page is a journal entry about receiving chemotherapy.

“We all have the same goal: to beat this awful disease,” he read.

He said he and the other cancer patients all applauded, cheered and smiled when a woman “rang the bell,” signifying she had completed her chemotherapy treatments.

On a later page, it’s his turn to ring the bell and that page features a photograph of him ringing the bell, with the words “Choose Joy,” at the top of the page.

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“Each day is another opportunity. It’s all about the possibilities,” he read.

“I got to ring the bell, but not everybody does,” he said. “I still struggle with it obviously today. You know, why am I alive when some people don’t get the chance to be where I’m at? So, it was a very bittersweet moment.”

Following the reading, Rich Kent of Rumford, a retired University of Maine professor and writer who edited Carrier’s book, asked him what was the most difficult part about writing it.

“Just being patient,” Carrier said. “Also, you have to be open to criticism.”

Connie Venskus of Rumford wished Carrier “forever N.E.D,” meaning forever with no evidence of disease.

Carrier said he is 20 months with no evidence of disease.

Cancer patients go five years to be considered cancer free.

“So, I’m not quite there yet but I’m getting there. One day at a time,” he said.

A drawing from Matt Carrier’s book, “To Ring the Bell” depicts what he fears he might look like after surgery to remove cancer from his sinuses. The Rumford native spoke Thursday night at the Rumford Public Library, saying he’s had no evidence of disease for 20 months. Submitted photo

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