Teen thankful for the little things amid fight with cancer

Photo submitted to Times Observer Rachel Platten (left) and Abbey Schmader (right). Platten's "Fight Song" has been Abbey's theme since she was first diagnosed with cancer at age 14.

Abbey Schmader is thankful for sweet potatoes.

And mashed potatoes.

And stuffing.

Abbey is thankful for a lot of things, really. But after being told in June that her doctors had found another tumor, this time behind her heart, Abbey wound up spending five weeks barely able to eat at all.

Abbey was initially diagnosed with Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of cancer that tends to form in soft tissue such as muscle, at the age of fourteen. But on June 27, 2016, two days to the year that Abbey got her cancer diagnosis, she was told that her bone tumors were gone.

Well, “no longer visible on an MRI,” the doctors said. For another five months Abbey and her mother continued to travel to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, where Abbey continued to be checked to ensure that her cancer was indeed gone.

“We rang the bell on Nov. 7,” Jodie said, talking about the day that she and Abbey could officially say that she was cancer free. Each month afterward, Abbey continued to have bloodwork, as well as CT scans every three months.

Once you’ve had cancer, Abbey said, the fear is always that it will come back. “Every time I’d have pain,” she said, “I’d wonder.” On June 23 of this year, after her second scan, that fear was realized. Abbey’s doctors removed a ten centimeter tumor from between her heart and spine. She spent July 4 in intensive care, and then spent five weeks getting treatment. During that time, she said, she was unable to eat. The intravenous nutrition she was getting tended to make her feel sick.

Her mom snuck her a few banana chips, and at one point, Abbey said, she was able to score a sleeve of Thin Mints that she ate ravenously. But most of all this Thanksgiving, Abbey said, she’s looking forward to a big, traditional meal.

Abbey said that this round of cancer and the ensuing treatment hasn’t come with as much nausea and weakness, and she’s been able to bring her chemotherapy home with her in the form of pills. She also has a better idea of what she’s facing, and what to expect.

In December of 2016, thanks to the Make A Wish Foundation, Abbey, her mother, and sister Allison went to Disney, and while there, Abbey got the opportunity to see Rachel Platten perform at the House of Blues in Disney Springs. It was especially meaningful, said Abbey, because after coming home from her appointment when she got that first diagnosis, “Fight Song” came on the radio. That song continued to show up all throughout her first ordeal, on the radio back and forth to Pittsburgh, on a commercial while she was at Children’s Hospital getting chemo. “Just all the time, that song would pop up,” said Abbey.

So sweet potatoes and meeting Rachel Platten.

And being alive.

That’s what Abbey is thankful for this year.