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Abby Gilmore

Giving Back to the Jimmy Fund

Photo of Abby Gilmore (right) and Danielle St Jean (left) who collected toys for the Jimmy Fund Clinic, where Abby's sister, Olivia (middle), was treated

Abby Gilmore (right) and Danielle St Jean (left) collected toys for the Jimmy Fund Clinic, where Abby's sister, Olivia (middle), was treated.

It was the fourth of July 2003, and I was hanging out at my friend's house. I was having a great day. The sun was shining, and I was excited to see the fireworks that night. My parents were in Colorado on vacation, and I was expecting my grandparents to pick me up soon, so we could watch the fireworks from the porch on my house.

The phone rang, and I thought nothing of it, until my friend said, "It's for you." As soon as I picked up the phone, I could hear someone crying hysterically, but who? It was my eleven-year-old sister, Olivia. She was in the emergency room at the Caritas Norwood Hospital.

The day before, Olivia had hit her stomach on a bar at a playground. She complained of stomach pains, but everyone thought it was just a stomachache. The next day, she was still saying her stomach hurt, so my grandmother, a retired nurse, decided it was time to go to the doctor. At the doctor's office, x-rays were taken, and it was then apparent that Olivia had a very large tumor attached to her kidney. She was rushed to the hospital, and that is when I received the call that changed my life forever.

Crying, Olivia said to me, "I... have a tumor on my kidney, and I have to have surgery." My heart sank. It was the worst news I had ever received in my life. I felt like I could not do anything about it and neither could my parents. They were thousands of miles away in Colorado, though they were trying to find a way home as soon as possible.

After Olivia was in the hospital for two days, doctors were positive that she had Wilm's Tumor, a childhood kidney cancer. Eight in one million children under the age of fourteen are diagnosed with Wilm's Tumor each year. The word "cancer" really got to me. Olivia was only eleven, with her whole life ahead of her. I had to keep asking myself, "why her?"

Olivia underwent surgery, and her right kidney and the tumor were removed. We thought that would be the end of it, since doctors had successfully removed everything. However, when Olivia hit her stomach on the pole at the playground a few days earlier, she had ruptured the tumor; it broke and leaked cancer cells, which were now spreading throughout her body. I was so scared. I didn't know what to expect.

My family and I soon found out that Olivia would have to go through chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Just the thought of it was scary. Would my sister lose all of her beautiful hair? Would she be able to go to school? What would her friends think of her in this state?

Olivia in fact did lose her hair, which was very hard for her. I offered to shave my head so she wouldn't have to go through her therapy and sickness alone, but she wouldn't let me. She said that she was sick, not me. When we went out to certain places, people stared sometimes. It made me upset at first, but then I realized that many people just didn't know what Olivia was going through.

Olivia was tutored for the first half of her sixth grade year because her medication made her very weak and tired. Her friends were shocked at first, but so was everyone else. Olivia had shown no signs of being sick ever before. Olivia's friends supported her 100 percent and even visited her on Seven West at Children's Hospital in Boston. Everyone at the hospital was extremely nice. I absolutely loved playing in the playroom with the other patients. After spending so much time in the hospital, you get to know everybody and make friends.

My other sister, Alex, and I would go into Boston with Olivia when she would receive her treatment. We made even more friends at the Jimmy Fund Clinic, and we would play with them every time we were there. After months and months of chemotherapy, Olivia was finally all done! She had her port (which allowed her to get chemotherapy easily) removed, and we went on vacation to Captiva Island in Florida to celebrate. My family and I were ready to move on...and we did. Olivia is now in remission and doing extremely well. She is in junior high and loving it! In five years, we will be able to officially say that Olivia is cured.

After going to the hospital and to the Jimmy Fund Clinic week after week, I realized how many children are diagnosed with cancer, It was then that I knew I had to do something for the children— anything I could to help them.

I have participated in the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk for two years now, and I plan on participating in the walk for the rest of my life. Also, this year, my friend Danielle and I are undergoing a huge project for our marketing class at King Philip High School. The category of our project is "Civic Consciousness." Within that category, it is our goal to get our community involved by planning and developing projects that benefit the charity of our choice.

For our project, Danielle and I decided to collect new toys and raise money to purchase more toys for the Jimmy Fund and for Children's Hospital. After getting to know children at the hospital and the clinic, and by being there for my sister through her fight with cancer, I knew that I wanted to include the Jimmy Fund in our project. With this project, we hope to bring smiles to patients' faces, and spread awareness about childhood cancer. Our project is now underway, and we're getting a great response from the community.

It's been over a year since Olivia was diagnosed with cancer, and it has been a true journey from anguish and hope to survival. Though it was hard for my whole family, we always kept faith alive in our house, which definitely kept our spirits up. When Olivia was diagnosed it put everything in perspective, and what was really important in life became clear. Sometimes when you're caught up in other things, like school, work and sports, you lose sight of what really matters. Through all of this, I've made new friends, become even closer with my family, and I have found my true hero: my little sister Olivia.

—Abby Gilmore