I first learned about Abigail’s cancer from a Facebook post by her boyfriend and my friend, Stanton Stephens. With the combination of his writing about her cancer journey and the love story that was an inseparable part of that journey, I found myself tuning in constantly, not only for important updates on Abigail’s health but also a glimpse into this remarkable love story. There is a hauntingly beautiful way that Stanton ties these subjects together.
I was not alone. There was a whole new group of Facebook followers – friends, family, and even those who stumbled upon Abigail’s story through others re-posting. No matter how we arrived, we all wanted more. To help satisfy the demand, Stanton started a blog on Tumblr to have a place we could all go for the latest on Abigail and to read stories we may have missed on Facebook. That blog is Lamanchablog.tumblr.com. Below is Stanton’s cover story and photograph of Abigail.
A Brief Introduction
by Stanton j Stephens
It was the natural beauty that brought her to the Pacific Northwest. A child of Texas, the idea of bubbling streams and mountains standing guard on the horizon seduced her from that flat dusty landscape around Denton, Texas. And more than that it was a second life, the one she chose beyond what she happened to be born into. In this life she was an intellectual. In this life she went to university and studied neuroscience. In this life she went for jogs on the Puget Sound and woke for 6 am yoga before class.
In fact, it was during yoga Abigail felt something not right. Something was deep inside her that wasn’t supposed to be there. Her very body had been invaded by some unknown evil, a thief that stole, not for gain, but simply for the pleasure of stealing. She was almost dead before we knew it was cancer.
For weeks I sat by her side writing a letter I never knew would be delivered. I told her of how they took her spleen, how her liver was failing. I told her how hard it was to see her body swell so much and how I couldn’t recognize her hands anymore. I told her that I refused to believe I brought her to the hospital to die.
What a complicated thing it is to wake up; to open your eyes; to breath on your own; to understand that sound has meaning, that globs of light are physical objects in front of you. First it was her eyes. They opened like little almonds and languidly scanned left to right to left. I was a fool to think they could see what was before them. I began standing in front of her stare while I wrote her letter. I wanted to be what was in front of her the moment of her epiphany; the moment she understood like Helen Keller that this random chaos had meaning. But like so many things, the truth was so vastly more complicated than the fantasy, and as it turns out, the line between conscious and unconscious is not a clear one.
For weeks she lay paralyzed but for her eyes staring like a ghost even in the dead of night, a product of the neurotoxins not being filtered out by her failing liver. Communication came first with blinking. A rig was installed so she could call the nurse by biting a straw. Soft spoken doctors came to ask her questions she could not answer like “What are the months of the year?” and “Do you know what day it is?”.
Cancer had stolen her body as well as her mind. Her head was shaved and her powerful legs atrophied till she was nothing but bones. It was from there she began to climb. First with the simplest of reflexes, then with the slightest of movements in her fingers. At first it took a staff to help her stand but within a few months she would be on a walker. A month after that she was in rehab. And as she gained control again of her body, her mind too returned. Then, a few days after Christmas she finished her last round of chemo.
We drove away from the hospital that night bloody and bruised. She was thirty pounds underweight and walked with concentration but she walked on her own. As it turns out strength is what you have when everything else has been taken away from you. You have no choice but to be strong. Nothing will be the same as it was. Not her skin or her hair, her mind or herself. But that’s not new. That’s what moving forward is, taking the change and owning it, pushing it, using it. And now she starts her 3rd life, and the possibilities are as endless now as ever before.