Scholarship Recipient Gives Back Through Art
Every child facing cancer and every cancer survivor has their own unique story. For Abigail, creating art provides an outlet to express what she has experienced on her difficult cancer journey. She’s using that to give back to the NCCS community as a 2020-2021 Beyond the Cure Ambassador Scholarship recipient.
Each year, the Beyond the Cure Ambassador Scholarship Program awards college scholarships to childhood cancer survivors who demonstrate the ability to overcome the challenges of cancer with determination and motivation. Abigail embodies that as someone who has risen above not only her own cancer battles but endured the pain of losing her mom to cancer.
Abigail was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, cancer that affects muscle tissue, at two years old. Her mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer around the same time, and they went through treatments together. For several years, Abigail thought frequent hospital visits were normal.
“For most people, survivorship starts later in life, but for me, it’s all I’ve ever known. I never realized that I was a survivor, that’s just what I did,” Abigail recalled.
But when Abigail started school, she realized her life didn’t look like that of other children. They had hair and the energy to run and play, and they made fun of her baldness and physical condition. Abigail struggled with hating her appearance, but her mom would inspire confidence.
“She would constantly remind me how precious I was and how beautiful I am no matter how I looked on the outside because it’s the inside that matters,” said Abigail. “It was only after my mom shaved her head that I began to realize being a survivor wasn’t about beauty and appearance, but about strength and courage.”
When Abigail went into remission, she was determined to do everything people had told her was impossible. She explored dance, gymnastics, softball, soccer and cheerleading and was excited for a new chance at life. Suddenly, when Abigail was nine, her mom’s cancer spread and she passed away a short time later.
“Surviving wasn’t just about me anymore; it became about the both of us. I promised myself that I would continue to survive in honor of my mom and everyone else who fought or is fighting,” remembered Abigail.
At 17, Abigail’s annual screenings found a lump in her right breast. Testing uncovered she and her grandmother both had a rare genetic disorder that caused predisposition to a wide range of cancers. Abigail went through surgery to have both breasts removed and reconstructed in hopes of beating cancer a second time.
It has not been easy, but Abigail is a survivor again. She enrolled in a program to become a nurse and was awarded the Beyond the Cure Ambassador Scholarship to study at Northwest Iowa Community College. She’s found art offers an outlet for sharing her story. She creates images that depict how it feels to always have the threat of cancer present and hopes she can encourage kids facing cancer to keep fighting.
“Survivorship isn’t temporary for me, it’s a lifelong journey. I will always be a survivor despite my background and genetics,” Abigail said. “Survivorship means living and fighting every day for myself, those who have lost the fight and those fighting … surviving means I get the chance to help people who are just like me and making a difference. Becoming a survivor isn’t a choice, surviving to thrive is.”