Abigail is One "Tough Chick"
At only four years old, Abigail Christian has been through more than most adults.
On June 1, 2013, Aimee and Alan Christian were preparing to have dinner with their relatives. However, this wasn't just another family dinner. Aimee's father, who they affectionately called Papa, was dying of ocular cancer that had metastasized to his liver, leaving him with only months to live. The Christians hired a professional photographer, fearing that this may be the last chance for a family photograph.
Abigail decided to get in on the fun as the family prepared for the special night that was ahead. As Abigail helped prepare the strawberry cake for the party, she began to bleed. Aimee didn't think much of it, considering that Abigail was only two and a half years old and had gotten herself into plenty of precarious situations. When Aimee and Alan tried to stop the bleeding, they realized it wasn't coming from a scrape or a cut. Concerned about their daughter, the Christians headed to the Emergency Department at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, picking up a snack along the way to hold them until dinner. Unfortunately, they would not be returning home that night.
When they arrived at the hospital, the doctor believed it was a bladder infection. When the tests came back negative, Aimee began to describe some of the symptoms that Abigail had been showing for the past month. She began to rattle them off, from tummy aches and wetting her pants to throwing up and excessively crying. Aimee had taken her daughter to the pediatrician the week before, but nothing appeared to be wrong. The doctors decided to test Abigail for food allergies, but those results came back negative as well. Aimee and Alan were growing increasingly worried about their baby girl.
The Christians patiently waited for the doctor to return with the results of the ultrasound. The news was devastating; Abigail had a tumor on her left kidney, most likely Wilms' tumor. The moment was surreal for Aimee. She had heard the words, but they didn't register with her at the time. "Kidney cancer," Aimee thought to herself. "This healthy-looking, beautiful baby girl? Maybe I didn't hear him right? Maybe he guessed wrong -- doctors could be wrong."
Aimee was in disbelief. How could her little Abigail be sick at the same time that Papa was fighting for the precious months left in his life? She fell to her knees and began to pray. All she could do was give her pigtail-wearing, drink-stealing, shark-smiling (that's a LOT of teeth), chubby-cheeked baby girl to the Lord. Their family's faith is the only thing that allowed them to survive this entire ordeal.
A Deeper Connection
As difficult as the diagnosis was for Aimee, breaking the news to Papa was even harder. The guilt ran through him, as if he believed that he had passed down a genetic marker that was responsible for this awful disease. In 1988, Papa was initially diagnosed with cancer in his left kidney, just like Abigail. However, childhood cancers are vastly different than adult cancers. Abigail had been born with Wilms' tumor, but it took years to manifest. Despite the need for unique treatments, only four percent of federal funding for cancer research goes toward childhood cancers.
After surgery to remove her left kidney, Abigail began 20 weeks of chemotherapy. Aimee often jokes with Alan that their daughter had "chemo lite" compared to many of the kids that they saw in the clinic. "Those kids are my heroes," Aimee said. "They suffered through mouth sores, aching limbs, cavities, throwing up, weight loss, hair loss and friend loss."
Despite the months of chemotherapy, Abigail still had time to play with her siblings, Lex, Ana and Andrew. Yet, the chemotherapy kept Abigail out of preschool and church, and away from just about every physical activity. It was heartbreaking for Aimee to watch her daughter sitting on the couch alone as the chemotherapy continued to sap her energy. The family even had to celebrate Abigail's third birthday that October in the chemo clinic. That moment really hit home for Aimee, as she thought about all the other kids in the clinic who had celebrated birthdays without friends and truly felt isolated from the world.
Finding Light Within Darkness
The Christian family quickly found out how gracious their community was during Abigail's treatment. Relatives, friends from church and members of their community would look after Aimee and Alan's children when they were in the hospital with Abigail. People brought dinner, sent singing cards and bought gifts for the entire family. "It was humbling to be served by so many people, some of whom we didn't even know," Aimee exclaimed.
On Father's Day of 2013, the Atlanta tornado held off long enough for the family to take a photo together, which turned out beautifully. You would never know that two of the people in that smiling, happy family had cancer. The bond between those two, Abigail and Papa, will never be broken. Each of them has an identical scar on their abdomen where their left kidney was removed.
Abigail has been cancer-free for over 20 months now, and, although Papa has sadly passed away, Aimee knows that he is rejoicing for Abigail's good health as he watches over their family. Since Abigail's recovery, Aimee has endlessly crusaded for better treatments and a cure for childhood cancers. Thanks to the donations of so many, Curing Kids Cancer has funded over $7 million for childhood cancer research. As Abigail says, "Let's take that cancer and throw it in the trash can!"