I grew up in a small town in Indiana. When I was 4 years old, I met my best friend. Ben had 2 younger sisters and a few years later, his youngest sister, Abi, was born.
Abi brightened any room she was in. With a smile from ear to ear and a wonderful singing voice, she was a truly a joy to be around. She went to school to study horses, but found she missed interacting with people. She later became a greeter at Wal-Mart. Her co-workers tell stories about how she could cheer up any customer who walked in the door with just her smile and a friendly hello. She constantly went out of her way to talk with anyone and everyone who seemed to be having a bad day. She always put her own bad days aside to help those around her.
Truly, the most selfless person I ever knew.
In June of 2011, Abi went to the doctor complaining of leg pain. At first the doctor wrote it off as a lymphedema (a condition in which fluid is not carried away from a specific part of the body). She was told to find a good physical therapist and begin treatment. After working with her therapist, she was told that a CAT scan was recommended. The CAT scan revealed what we all feared, but never spoke. A tumor. After running a biopsy, we found out it was a rare (but treatable) form of sarcoma called Extraskeletal Ewing’s Sarcoma. This was a shock because that specific form of cancer was so rare and usually attacks the very young. At 21 years old, Abi took this challenge face on and was determined not to let this get her down. She literally looked death in the face and smiled.
By November of 2011, the tumor had not responded to the chemotherapy Abi's doctors had put her on. There was talk of surgery to remove the tumor. This, however, was very risky as they had no idea if the tumor was intertwined with the surrounding blood vessels of the leg. Abi smiled and reminded us all that God gave her 2 legs. Luckily, the surgery was a success and Abi was able to keep her leg.
Though it all, Abi smiled.
In February of 2012, after several months of remission, Abi was rushed to the hospital, presumably pneumonia. The scans reveal that the cancer had returned with a vengeance and had a strong hold in both of her lungs. She was put back on chemotherapy and medication to battle the blood clots associated with the infection in her lungs. It was at this time the doctors had to tell this sweet 22 year old that she was fighting a battle she could not win. Abi, with no fear and no regrets, continued living her life. Day by day. Hour by hour.
And through it all, she smiled.
In March of 2012, Abi was rushed to the hospital for what appeared to be a stroke. Scans revealed that the cancer had spread to her brain. This, in combination with the blood thinners to battle the clots, did not bode well. When she was not in the hospital for chemotherapy, she was there to have blot clots removed, and when she was not there for that, she was there to have fluid drained from her lungs. At this point, the doctors gave her a month to live.
On March 23rd, 2012, I flew back to Indiana to visit Abi and the family I had known since I was 4. For a very brief time, we were all kids again. Laughing and playing, joking and singing. It was as if time never moved.
That Sunday I flew back to Los Angeles, and the following Tuesday, I got the call. That Thursday, I was back on a plane for the funeral.
Now Abi looks down on all of us. And she is smiling.
That May, I joined Team in Training (TNT). An amazing fundraising program with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). As a participant, you train for endurance events such as marathons and triathlons, while fundraising for new research grants.
I was never a runner. At one point, I was pushing 300 pounds. Could I run a marathon? Screw it. This is for Abi.
Originally, I was signed up to run The Disneyland Half Marathon, but ended up switching to The Nike Women Full in San Francisco. This race was being held on October 14th. This would have been Abi's 23rd birthday. I could not think of a more perfect situation for my first race.
I trained hard, made so many new friends, and learned so much about myself during that time.
The day of the race came. I was as ready as I could be. I always tell people that the only way to be prepared for running a full marathon, is to have actually already ran one. I had no idea what to expect. I met so many amazing people on the race course. Cancer survivors, runners who lost loved ones, a couple who lost their baby girl, and people who just enjoy running. I felt amazing. Then, The Wall. It hit at about mile 17. Hard. I pushed with every amount of physical and mental strength I had to keep going. I found my greatest encouragement came from encouraging the other struggling runners around me (a practice I still do to this day).
On this particular race course there was an out and back with a loop around a lake. When I got to the lake, the race officials told me I had missed the cut-off and needed to skip the lake. I was devastated. Luckily, there was a TNT coach from another chapter who ran beside me. He reminded me that this was my first ever race and that to tackle a full marathon is no small feat. I had done the training. I had fundraised close to $4,000. I was running a marathon. 26.2 miles or 23.2 miles, it was still an amazing accomplishment.
I ran the race with a picture of Abi on my back, at mile 25.5, I took it off my back and ran across the finish line with Abi's picture held high above my head.
As I ran past all the spectators, teammates, and friends, I could not not help but break down into tears. Someone I grew up with and loved, was gone. And here I was doing something incredible in her honor. It was too much. Even now (one year later) as I am writing this, I have to wipe away tears. I remember people cheering, then reading the words on Abi's picture, then smiling at me. I remember my teammate and friend, JoeAnn (who had ran the half) running out to me. All the said was "Abi is right here with you and she is so proud."
As I approached the finish line, I could hear Coach Ed's advice on what do to when you cross. "Just remember to smile" With what little emotional. mental, and physical energy I had left, and I smiled.
I crossed that finish line, full of love, joy, accomplishment, and sorrow. Once it finally dawned on me what I had just done, I felt amazing. Not physically. I mean, I just ran a freaking marathon! I felt like I could do anything! Even more marathons!! I felt alive. More alive than I have ever felt before in my life. It was then that I realized, I had done something bigger than myself. I had raised money to help save lives. I had pushed myself to a level of life that would ensure I was not wasting what little time we have. I had honored Abi in a way that made her proud.
I wanted, no, NEEDED to do it again.
In November, I took a job in Vancouver, Canada. The first thing I did was find the local TNT chapter. I became a team mentor, a way for me to help others achieve that amazing feeling I felt at the end of every race.
I continued to train.
(EDIT October 17, 2015: From October 14th, 2012 to today,I have ran 4 full marathons, 15 half marathons, numerous 10ks/5ks, a RAGNAR relay, a Tough Mudder, The BC Ride to Conquer Cancer, and 4 triathlons. And I have raised close to $20,000 towards cancer research and treatment.)
My story does not end there. This
I chose this race because of it's difficulty. Everyday, thousands of people suffer from their battles with cancer. Compared to this,my suffering on the course(s) of The Goofy Challenge will be next to nothing.
To find a local TNT chapter near you please visit: www.teamintraining.org/
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. It means so much to know that Abi's story is being shared. I know she is looking down on all of us..... and smiling.