Jamie Creamer’s expectations were pretty low Wednesday morning when he arrived at Mercy Hospital’s Fore River Campus for his eighth and final chemotherapy treatment and the 30th of 35 radiation treatments.

The much-loved South Portland school bus driver knew from experience that the daylong ordeal at the Portland oncology practice would sap his strength and lead to several days of pain, weakness and depression. More than four months of surgeries and treatments for neck cancer have left the athletic, community-oriented and dedicated family man dispirited and without his usual appetite for life, let alone a big plate of spaghetti.

But all strife seemed to disappear Wednesday afternoon, when the South Portland High School marching band and a convoy of 20 school buses showed up to brighten Creamer’s day and wish him a speedy recovery.

Jamie Creamer, a South Portland school bus driver, gets a morale boost as he finishes more than four months of surgeries and treatments for neck cancer. Staff photo by Derek Davis

Hooked to a chemotherapy line, Creamer looked down from his third-floor window at the band gathered in the parking lot below. He wiped away tears and waved as the band and color guard performed a few rousing songs and the yellow buses rolled by on the Fore River Parkway in the distance.

The bus drivers honked their horns. The low December sun sparkled on the river. Creamer was nearly speechless.

“I felt like crap until they came,” said Creamer, 46, his bald head covered by a red baseball cap, his wife and son at his side. “Now I feel awesome. I feel so blessed.”

‘IT’S LIKE I’M THEIR UNCLE’

For 12 years, Creamer has driven students in kindergarten through Grade 12 to school, athletic events and other destinations, some weeks putting in 30 hours of overtime. In that time, he has gained a reputation of consideration and concern. He notices how kids interact on the bus, intervening if he sees evidence of bullying and listening to stories about the latest vacation or the pet that died. He attends their competitions, cheering them when they win and encouraging them when the chips are down.

“It’s not even like working. It’s like I’m their uncle,” said Creamer, who has two adult sons and one granddaughter.

The feeling is mutual, said Josh Hyssong, a senior tuba player.

“It was really important to give back to the man who has gotten us through so many band seasons,” Hyssong said. “I’m really glad we were able to make this gesture of support for him and to wish him well.”

Creamer’s wife, Tammy, organized Wednesday’s surprise performance. The cancer treatments are taking a toll on the man she has known since they were high school sweethearts. The disease is considered curable, she said, and her husband’s prognosis is good, but it’s taking everything he’s got to keep up the fight.

“This has been such a long road,” Tammy Creamer said in a phone call Wednesday morning. “I’m hoping he gets the inspiration to continue his journey to recovery. I want him to see all the love he puts out for the kids coming back to him.”

Superintendent Ken Kunin approved the excursion. Band director Craig Skeffington and transportation coordinator Gloria Nelson helped to pull the event together.

“He’s such a good kid,” Nelson said of Creamer. “He worked as long as he could, but things are getting really tough for him now. We have drivers who go over to his house to visit him and I call him about once a week to see how he’s doing.”

‘TELL THEM: “THANK YOU SO MUCH” ‘

During the parking lot performance, the color guard carried a large banner that read “Get Well Jamie!!!” It was covered with signatures.

“All the band and the whole school signed it,” said Allie Lessard, a color guard member who delivered the banner to Creamer.

“You guys are a great group of kids,” Creamer said to Lessard. “Tell them, ‘Thank you so much.’ ”

Leaning on the window sill, Creamer watched the students milling around in the parking lot long after their performance ended.

Jamie Creamer hugs his wife, Tammy, after members of the South Portland High School marching band played outside the window of his hospital room. Staff photo by Derek Davis

“This is incredible,” he said. “Seeing these kids here is awesome. I’m in shock. I’ve very lucky.”

With his spirits boosted, Creamer said he looked forward to regaining his appetite, enjoying favorites like strawberry shortcake again and driving to Connecticut for some cheddar biscuits at the nearest Red Lobster restaurant. Eventually, he might even resume running 10 miles a day.

But for now, just getting back behind the wheel of a school bus sounds like a dream come true.

“Oh, my God,” Creamer said, “you don’t even know.”

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KelleyBouchard