Abby was born on November 16th, 2017. She came into this world fiercely and she held that title throughout her short and wonderful life. She was our rainbow baby after several miscarriages, and the pride and joy of her big brother. She was the colourful light in our lives we needed, bringing smiles to our faces everyday with her countless catchphrases and quirks.
Abby had roots in Nova Scotia and Ontario, but was born and lived her happy little life in Moncton, New Brunswick. She was a super-fan of Paw Patrol, Peppa Pig, Gabby’s Dollhouse, and True and the Rainbow Kingdom. She loved eating Cheesie’s and Welch’s gummies on her movie nights.
She loved going on adventures, feeding the birdies, walks, beach days, camping, and spending time with her family and friends.
She was the tiniest in the household by far, but Abby didn’t think so. She was 3 years old going on 15. She loved to help, whether it be getting her older brother out the door for school, putting away the laundry, or even helping Daddy renovate.
She was assertive in doing things “all by herself”, but would still remind Mommy and Daddy often that she’s “just a little baby”. She was Daddy’s little girl, and the bond she held with Mommy was unmatched. Mommy was with her every moment of her life from beginning to end.
On February 21st, 2021, our lives changed forever. Our healthy little girl began to complain that her head and neck were hurting, and then began vomiting before losing consciousness within a couple of minutes. She was rushed to Moncton City Hospital where they found a 6-7 cm asymmetrical brain tumour on the right side of her brain, roughly the size of a baseball. Luckily, a neurosurgeon was near and was able to insert a drain to relieve pressure and buy us some time. She was airlifted by LifeFlight to the IWK Children’s Hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The amazing neurosurgeons worked through the night for over 10 hours, and were able to perform a full resection of the tumour.
On February 25th, the Oncology team confirmed Abby had ATRT Brain Cancer; words a parent should never hear. The statistics were horrifying, but we were ready for war. We shut down our lives to be with her every second and through every step of her fight and recovery. She was small, but she was mighty!
After her initial (and shocking) recovery from brain surgery, she received 3 rounds of induction chemotherapy at the IWK, with a quick trip to Toronto in between for stem cell collection. In June we flew to the Toronto Sick Kids Hospital where she received three rounds of high-risk intensive chemotherapy with stem cell rescue over the summer.
During the first four months of this journey, we sold our home and many of our personal possessions. We moved what was left into long term storage. This was all done over the phone since we couldn’t return to our home province due to covid restrictions. Toronto had the best rehabilitation centers, and the long-term plan was to be in the area where Abby could get the best care in the coming years. We were by her side every step of the way, leaving work and our lives behind, and entrusting the care of her 7-year-old brother to family. We devoted it all to Abby and we were all-in. Ironically, Abby was the one holding us all together, keeping us strong, filling us with hope and a winning mentality.
Through the good days and bad days of her 7 months of treatment, which were entirely inpatient, Abby was the happiest when Mommy, Daddy, and her big brother Shawn were nearby. She loved video chats with family, sand play, bubbles, painting, watching her favourite shows on her iPad, music therapy, swinging in the swing, walks out in the garden and looking at the flowers, finding treasures, and feeding the birdies donuts. All of these are memories we’ll cherish forever.
She was well known by the nurses for her spunky, sassy, smart wit attitude. Although she was only 3, she was very independent; “Let me do it”, “I can do it all by myself”, “Mommy and Daddy will do it”. After unwanted procedures, she would show the nurses the door and even tell them their friends were waiting for them in the hallway to get them to leave. If a nurse called her sweety, honey, or anything but Abby they were quickly corrected.
Nurse: “See you later Alligator”
Abby: “I’m not an Alligator, I’m Abby!”
She made herself well known, and even conducted an orchestra telling several nurses and doctors all the different instruments to play and sounds to make. She would put on a show just being her energetic, unique self that everybody loved.
While in Toronto, we continued to receive the good news after MRI’s that there was no cancer regrowth. It was promising news that the Chemotherapy was holding the cancer at bay and potentially eliminating it. Her care plan was to perform 6 total rounds of chemotherapy, and travel to Florida at the end of September for radiation therapy. We celebrated the successful completion of her 6th and final round of chemotherapy at the beginning of August. We were simply going through the planning stages for our relocation to Florida while she recovered.
In mid-August, we were blindsided by lung complications, seeing her ability to maintain oxygen diminish over the coming days, with her being transferred to the Critical Care Unit. When doctors intubated her on August 21st, she suffered a lung hemorrhage. This began a 5-week battle to save her. After over a week on a special oscillating respirator, she was brought out of sedation and was switched to a standard respirator. There were glimmers of hope, horrifying scares, and tremendous effort over the 2 weeks that followed to keep her stable. Through this time, she was conscious, aware, playing on her iPad, holding her stuffies oh so tight. On September 10th as Abby lay watching her cartoons, doctors met with us in the joining room and told us the horrifying news that the damage to Abby’s lungs was so bad that she would need a miracle to survive. It was the first time in 7 months of fighting that doctors told us something with so little hope attached to their words.
We refused to give up, with thousands of people praying for her around the clock, and countless medical staff meeting and trying to give her the best possible chance. Unfortunately, on the morning of September 26th, 2021, the lung damage from the chemotherapy proved too great. Abby passed away while being held and kissed in the loving arms of her mommy and daddy. It was the hardest moment of our lives, the second hardest being the moment we told her big brother that Abby was gone.
During her battle, Abby had dozens of surgeries, scans, scares, miracles, blood transfusions, platelet transfusions, repeated chemo baths to protect her skin, and landmark moments. She endured many grueling side effects of her surgeries and chemotherapy and never complained. We are so proud of her and so thankful she was brought to us even if for a short time. She touched and continues to touch so many people, and had such a powerful impact that she’ll live on with us forever.
Abigail Hannah Smith was the bravest person, with the most positive attitude we have ever met. To experience this journey with her was an honor above all others. A piece of our hearts are gone forever. This type of battle changes you on a fundamental level; your perspective on life and the scale on which you weigh daily bumps in the road is permanently bent. Sometimes you feel invincible like Abby at her strongest moments; like nothing can phase you. Other times, you feel as if no amount of effort can get you through the day. But Abby’s soft touch, precious voice, and amazing personality living on in our hearts makes getting out of bed in the morning a worthy cause. As long as we shine, she shines.
We will devote our time to raising awareness and funds for research to make treatments safe for special little boys and girls like Abby. This is something no family should ever go through, and something no parent should have to witness for their child.
20-30 years ago, the technology and medications to treat ATRT brain cancer were centuries behind what they are today, and the prognosis for children was even worse than the low likelihood of survival we have currently. We hope to make it centuries ahead in the years to come. There has to be a safer and more effective way to help these precious little bundles of joy.
We are prospectively calling her organization “Adventures for Abby”. Our mission to make other kids smile like Abby made us smile, continue to do all the things she loved, help families who are affected by childhood cancer get through this difficult journey, and raise funds for ATRT research. Follow Adventures for Abby on Facebook.
Abigail “Abby” Smith