The Duncan Banner

November 10, 2013

Abigail’s autumns

Cancer becomes mission to minister

Toni Hopper
The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN — Leaves of gold, red, orange and yellow swirl in the air and drift to the ground.

A symbol of change. A burst of brilliant color reminding you of hope — that winter is coming, but a rebirth is just around the corner.

Autumn, it’s one season a year. Yet, for Abigail Smith, autumn, her favorite season, came for her three times this fall.

First in Ukraine, then again in Paris and this last week in southern Oklahoma.

Abigail, a Duncan native who is dying of cancer, almost didn’t get to see her Oklahoma fall season.

“God gave me one more week. I don’t know why,” she said on Friday as she lay resting in a hospital bed in her living room, tended to by her mother, Betty.

Abigail, 24, was weakening before her trip to Ukraine, but the family wanted one more trip together. They returned to Ukraine, where her parents, Ron and Betty had served as missionaries when Abigail was only 3 years old. Going back wasn’t purely a sentimental trip, but one with purpose for Abigail. She’s been on a mission to share her story with as many people as she can, and to visit with others who have cancer.

“Cancer is evil, it is awful,” she said. She puts her trust in God. She believes it’s the reason for her gaining one more day of life.

Not quite two years ago, Abigail learned she had Synovial Cell Sarcoma. A tumor was removed from under her armpit and she completed radiation. Months later, the cancer returned with a vengeance and Abigail was told she was terminal. It had spread to her lungs.

Even though she declined chemotherapy, because there was only a 30 to 50 percent chance it would slow it down, not cure, she is a believer in medical science as well as natural healing.

She chose though, not to spend her time in and out of hospitals taking chemo treatments. She chose, instead, to share her story with the world. In fact, Abigail’s been sharing her story — first quietly with friends, then on Facebook, then with a video “Terminal cancer wasn’t in my plans.” produced by her brothers. But it wasn’t enough.

Like the three autumns, Abigail has had a trio of experiences and looking back, she believes there’s a bigger force at work than most people could ever comprehend.

In the year before she learned she had cancer, three different people shared their “visions” with her.

“I had three people prophecy to me.” The first person told her she would be like a well, springing forth from her soul. The second told her people would listen to her, like they did Jesus during Biblical times. And there was a third one.

“This man had said he had a vision of me, like with a lightning bolt coming out of my hand,” she said of the third prophecy.

“I wrote down each of those,” she said. She wanted to remember them and reflect upon the deeper meanings. Those prophecies have been her guiding force.

She has traveled the world — 49 states and 11 countries — and ministered to thousands, yet, there are many in her hometown who have not met her or even heard of her.

Anyone who does know her, thinks of her big smiles, her curly red hair and her portrait photography work.

On this day, she continues smiling, but her sadness is visible. She tries to make sense out of why she continues to live, even though her body has tired. She admits she doesn’t want to live like that, but is driven to minister to others.

In June, she and Amos went to a youth camp in the Ozarks where she was able to share her story with hundreds of teenagers.

“They drove her around in a golf cart,” he said. It’s a good memory for them, and he smiles.

After radiation in 2012, Abby and her brothers, Amos, Andrew and Adam, boarded an airplane for Ireland. It’s her favorite place in the world.

“It is the most beautiful place,” she said. Going to Ireland gave her strength for another year.

As the days grow shorter, both because of the changing season and because Abigail’s time may be drawing to a close, she’s never stopped ministering to all around her. She finds her strength, she said, in God and the love she gets from everyone around her.

As Betty greeted me at the door, she began telling me how she had written a song for each of her children.

“It took me two years to write Abby’s song,” she said. “She’s so beautiful, on the outside and on the inside. She’s special and she’s my best friend.”

Later, Betty spoke calmly and candidly about her daughter.

“I always thought I’d be helping her through childbirth, but here I am, helping her through dying.”

Conversation turned to heaven and Betty passed a book titled such. She explained that heaven isn’t about being a perfect place, but is centered around a relationship. A relationship with Jesus Christ that begins while we’re alive, she said.

Abigail then shared stories of their trips around the world and being fortunate to continue sharing her story.

A kitchen counter overflowing with bouquets of flowers, most in the autumn colors Abigail loves so much, spark another conversation.

“Everyone has been so good to us. This can’t end,” Abigail said. More tears flow. Her brother, Amos, sits by her bedside and helps her explain. An account was established online because so many people have wanted to help financially with Abigail’s costs. Now the family wants the fund to stay open so that they can help others, whether they are missionaries, cancer patients or anyone who really needs help.

Abigail, tiring, said she wants people to take the money they would spend on flowers or gifts for her and donate it to the account.

“Abby is glad she was able to enjoy the flowers but they aren’t needed now,” Amos said. Earlier, Betty had been fixing the arrangements by removing the flowers that had withered. She picked up two baskets overflowing with snacks.

“The nursing staff did this. Usually the patient gives the nurses gifts, but they gave her this. They’ve all been so good to her,” she said. Betty is a former nurse but has taken on the task of providing home hospice for her daughter.

Abigail’s body began declining rapidly during the final family trip.

By the time she arrived back in Duncan, she could barely breathe. She was admitted to Duncan Regional Hospital for treatment for pneumonia and pleurisy. Doctors were able to help relieve the pressure. Many people prayed, and worried she might not make it through the weekend. Her gift of ministry gave them hope when she posted on her Facebook page that she was going home with hospice care. That was a week ago. She had been released on Saturday, Nov. 2.

Since going home, visitors have been limited to family and only her closest friends. Many of them have flown in from around the country to spend a day or two with her, including her best friends Amy and Anna Boyer. She laughs because she feels she has many best friends. She said the notes of encouragement via email and Facebook have been incredible to read.

On Friday, she prepared for another video.

“I still have more to say,” she said.

“I don’t know why I’m still here but I know God is taking care of me.”

Her family chalks it up to a miracle.

“Even while being sick, Abby continues to provide comfort and minister to others who come to see her. She’s amazing, she really is,” Amos said. On Saturday, her mom took her outside for about five minutes to enjoy another warm Oklahoma autumn day.

To donate to the fund, visit online at: http://bit.ly/U4nmlZ; or mail checks marked Abby’s fund to P.O. Box 502 Duncan, OK 73534.