On Jan. 11, Abby Johnson’s parents took her to the doctor because she had been having headaches. Abby, 6, had experienced headaches before, but they had recently become more frequent.
For a week in December, she had them three nights straight. They woke her up in the middle of the night and lasted a couple of minutes.
“Things didn’t seem right,” said Lisa Johnson, her mother.
But during that trip to the doctor, her pediatrician said she looked great. The doctor recommended they go see an eye doctor.
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So on Jan. 13, they went. The eye doctor said the same, but noticed that her optic nerve was swollen. The optic nerve carries impulses to the brain, where visual information is interpreted.
But a swollen optic nerve can mean anything, he said. The eye doctor recommended they see a neurologist.
So on Jan. 14, they did.
And again, the news was the same. Everything appeared to be OK. He wanted to perform an MRI just to be sure.
But when the neurologists called Lisa and David Johnson to tell them the results, it wasn’t the news the Cary parents of four were expecting. Abby had a tumor on the back of her brain the size of an orange. She would need immediate surgery to have it removed.
On Jan. 15, Abby had a successful surgery to remove the tumor. On Jan. 17, Lisa and David found out their second oldest child had cancer.
Nine months later, Abby is cancer free. She returned to school last month, after one and a half months of radiation and four months of chemotherapy. She looks normal. She has very little hair but it’s starting to grow back. She’s shy and quiet and likes to play Minecraft on her iPad.
“My favorite subject is math,” she said.
She smiles often, wearing an oversized purple shirt. Her classmates wear it too on Fridays. It says “Abby’s Army.”
It’s the name of her charity, and Saturday, MoonRunners Saloon will hold a fundraiser for Abby Johnson and her family. They will sell $20 barbecue buffet tickets for adults and a $5 buffet of hamburgers, hot dogs and french fries for the children. There will also be games, face painting, a bouncy house, a miniature pony and cornhole tournament.
All of the money raised will go toward buying electronics and toys for the waiting rooms at the Duke Children’s Hospital.
A typical day at Duke Children’s Hospital could be getting there at 8:30 a.m., David Johnson said. Have an MRI at 10 a.m. Finish at noon. From noon to 5 p.m., the child recovers and waits for the doctor to look at the MRI.
“For a one-and-a-half hour procedure, you’re there for, like, 10 hours,” David said. “There’s just a lot of down time when they are there.”
So far, Abby’s Army has raised $10,000, and has given three iPads to the hospital. The goal is to raise enough for 30 of them, as well as Lego toys, an XBox One, 100 PlayStation 4 games, and anything else the hospital may need for the children.
“It’s just amazing the volume of toys and fun activities they go through in a day,” David said. “Just day after day after day you watch so many kids come through.”
The fundraiser is noon to 4 p.m. Guy Wavra, the co-owner of MoonRunners Saloon, said one of his regulars asked him for a donation to Abby’s Army. She told him about Abby’s story and he wanted to take it a step further and hold the fundraiser.
“Having two kids myself, it kind of hit home a little bit,” Wavra said. “One thing I told myself when we built this restaurant was to give back to the community and kind of band together. I think that is part of my duty as a business owner in Garner.”
The days Lisa and David first found out their daughter had a tumor and, then, that it was cancerous, were devastating.
“It’s like you get hit, and then you get hit again,” Lisa said, pounding her fist into her other hand. “It’s not a day that I like to relive.”
The first thing they did was go online to research the disease.
“And that’s the worst thing I could have done,” David said. “Because I feel like the only thing people ever write about when they are doing blogs are the bad stories. You never see the success stories.”
They worried how it may affect their other young children. There was also the fear of the unknown. Every now and then, a negative thought would creep in their minds.
But Abby’s story couldn’t have been any different than the negative ones David and Lisa read online.
Five days after her surgery, she was outside sledding in the snow with her dad, two sisters and her brother. During radiation she showed no side effects. She still went to school, despite her busy schedule with treatments every weekday.
She missed a month of school while she underwent chemotherapy over the summer, but she was the same Abby, except for her hair.
And she never asked, “Why me?” her dad said.
“She’s a trooper,” he said.
Family vacations and birthday celebrations had to be put on hold. Lisa and Abby spent weeks at a time in the hospital. But it brought the family closer. Both Lisa and David agree they have different perspectives on life now. They appreciate the time together.
“You realize what’s important and what is not,” David said.
“We’re blessed to be where we are right now, and we hope it stays there,” Lisa said.
Information about Abby’s Army
For more information about Abby’s Army go to abbysarmync.com/index.php/buffet-and-auction-at-moon-runners-saloon/