Abigail's Story full version
"I never knew that love would be the most important thing in my life! Every day that I am alive is a blessing."
Breast cancer was one chapter in my life. It was neither the first health-related challenge I have gone through, nor was it the last. I was born in 1953 with Spina Bifida, a neural tube defect of the spine. It amazes me how far the world has come medically since then for babies born with the same anomaly. One of my legs is longer than the other. I have no feeling in my clubbed and severely misshapen feet. The doctors told my parents that my life would be difficult and brief, and that I would never be able to walk. Thankfully, they had the good sense not to tell me this until I was older. I did not learn to put one foot in front of the other until I was three, but I was indeed a walker! Bulky shoes and braces clad my lower legs and feet for most of my life. I didn’t let their weight hold me back from much, however. I was often seen skipping and running with the other neighborhood kids.
Much of my childhood was spent in the hospital. I have had countless surgeries and health issues: infections, catheters, medications, appointments, and physical therapy. All of this left me with a certain acceptance of what life dishes out. We are all given different challenges. I think in many ways I am very different from my parents and siblings because so many people—doctors, nurses, and health aides—raised me. Some of these healthcare workers made a very positive impact on me. There were others that left me with deep emotional scars.
I learned from an early age that it felt good to make people laugh. I also recognized that if I wanted to make friends and be in on the fun, whining and complaining about my troubles would get me nowhere. So I became a ham. I always loved to sing and dance and be silly. Staying positive grounded me. I was the third out of four children in our family. I also loved taking care of my baby brother, who was 12 years younger than me.
I wanted more than anything in life to be a mother. Having a child was another thing that my doctors said I would never be able to do. By the time I was 22, however, I was accustomed to questioning limitations. I welcomed my baby girl into the world in 1975. My whole life changed. My love for her filled me up in a way I had never experienced before.
I found a lump in my breast when I was 44. My daughter was in her early 20’s, and pregnant with her first child. The lump grew quickly, which is usually a sign that it is not malignant…but it was. I had a unilateral mastectomy, adding more scars to my collection. I began chemotherapy soon after. When my hair began falling out, I asked my daughter to shave my head. She shaved her long, curly hair along with mine. I had a terrible reaction to the medication. My lungs began filling up with fluid. More times than I can remember, I couldn’t breathe and was rushed to the Emergency Room to have my lungs tapped and the fluid removed. It was a very scary time. I was put on oxygen support, 24 hours a day. My medical team could not figure out how to stop the fluid problem.
When my daughter was seven months pregnant, they said I had three months to live. I had no fear. I felt I was ready to die. Then my grandson was born. I could never have predicted the love that began pouring out of me toward this tiny, perfect being. I felt this way when my daughter was born, but I didn’t know it was possible to feel this amount of love more than once. It was this love that saved my life—of this I am sure. He was a miracle child. I became stronger, one day at a time.
There were many things that have provided me with solace through the difficult times. Raising my daughter has been the most satisfying life experience for me. Listening to her and encouraging her to express herself is something that I feel has always been very important. I have helped her to find her voice in a world where the media in particular pushes girls into believing that they are supposed to behave in certain stereotypical ways. I wanted my daughter to always be true to herself, and have always believed in her. We have been there for each other through many highs and lows in life. I have gone through kidney failure—years of dialysis and two kidney transplants. I have had more than one brush with death. We have both been single mothers, and have both been through breast cancer. We have always had each other, though, and in that we have found enormous strength.
Being an active part of my grandson’s life was like a breath of fresh air to my tired lungs! He was so full of vitality and curious about everything. His excitement was contagious. We marveled at the wonders of bugs, spent hours building with blocks, blowing soap bubbles, and getting completely covered in finger paint. We mastered the tricycle together. I would zip alongside him in my wheelchair. When he would go home, I would sleep for hours or sometimes the rest of the day. I would need time to recuperate from all the fun we had, but there was nothing more precious to me than our time together! Many years later, my daughter married and there were new grandchildren to welcome and cherish.
Writing letters and in my journal have been very healing for me. Sometimes I just jot down a few key points of the day on my calendar or in a little notebook. I have several dear friends that I exchange long letters with. People have always opened right up to me. I think I am easy to talk to because I am very comfortable with myself. I wasn’t always! It’s been a process. When your body doesn’t work right, at some point you just begin to accept yourself. You realize there’s no point in getting caught up in what you can’t change. It’s very freeing. Having a sense of humor has been very helpful too.
I never knew that love would be the most important thing in my life! Every day that I am alive is a blessing. I know my limitations. I have a wonderful family. Life is good!