Frederick teen battles setbacks from cancer

Abby Snider, right, hugs her best friend, Angel DeHaven, Sunday at the University of Virginia's Children's Hospital in Charlottesville, while being treated for pancreatitis, a complication from her chemotheraphy treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Abby was released from the hospital Wednesday. Courtesy Abby Snider

Abby Snider, of Cross Junction, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia days after her 15th birthday, her mother Amy Snider recently recalled.

“It was the day of her birthday party,” Snider said. “We had had to cancel it.”

Now 16, Abby has been through a lot over the last year.

The worst was in May 2014, when more than a month into chemotherapy she developed pancreatitis and was hospitalized at the University of Virginia’s Children’s Hospital in Charlottesville. But after returning home this week from her fifth bout with pancreatitis in a year’s time, Abby is optimistic.

Friends are planning a bake sale benefit from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Dollar Tree, 180 Rivendell Court, Winchester, to help the family pay off some medical bills, and Abby is looking forward to a long summer of celebrations.

Once a passionate cheerleader and member of her school’s soccer and basketball teams, Abby now speaks to area children and teens about her experience.

“Just keep your head up high and stay strong,” she would tell other cancer patients, “’cause it might feel like your world and your whole life is falling apart … but it gets a lot better.”

“You can still feel a little bit normal at times,” she said.

During a phone interview on her drive back home from Charlottesville on Wednesday, she said she wasn’t feeling her best but knew that better days are coming.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a cancer that causes cells of the immune system — a type of white blood cell — to grow and multiply uncontrollably, according to the website http://www.lymphoma.org. The cancerous cells can travel to the lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, blood and other organs.

Lymphoma is the most common blood cancer, but Abby has T-cell lymphoma, much more rare than B-cell lymphoma. T-cell lymphoma accounts for about 15 percent of all non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients in the United States, the site said.

When Abby was diagnosed, her mom recalled that she had no energy for running, like she usually did.

Treated for strep throat because of her enlarged lymph nodes, Abby felt even worse 10 days later. Another five days on antibiotics for an ear ache and she was 10 times worse, he mother recalled.

Snider had her tested for mononucleosis, but a complete blood count test showed elevated levels of white blood cells. Normal is usually between 4,500 and 10,800 per microliter, the U.S. National Library of Medicine reports at http://www.nlm.nih.gov. Abby had about 93,000, her mother said.

Though very high, it’s a good sign for the future. The American Cancer Society reports at http://www.cancer.org that patients with a lower white blood cell count (less than 30,000 for B-cell ALL and less than 100,000 for T-cell ALL) at the time of diagnosis tend to have a better prognosis.

Snider said her daughter will continue with chemotherapy through September 2016 and then follow up with doctors after three months and again every six months for five years before she’s classified cancer free.

But chemo is on hold while she recovers from pancreatitis that Snider said was caused by her daughter’s prescription of chemo medication.

Individual chemo drugs can sometimes cause pancreatitis, but Snider said her daughter’s continued trouble after a change in medication has doctors worried and has prompted them to consult with other specialists around the country to prevent further recurrences.

While treated for pancreatitis, Abby was instructed not to eat or drink anything until her pancreas began to heal.

Now with her home, though, Snider plans to ease Abby back into eating, starting with fruit and vegetables in various forms, such as smoothies.

Recognized for her bravery, Abby was named the Children’s Miracle Network’s 2015 Miracle Child of UVA and won a trip with her family to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania for this summer. There she and cancer patients from other Miracle Network-affiliated hospitals will be honored at a golf tournament fundraiser in July.

Abby also plans to visit her grandparents near Sarasota, Florida, and spend a second summer at Special Love’s Camp Fantastic for young cancer patients and recent survivors at the 4-H Center in Front Royal in August. Abby’s 11-year-old sister Emma can also attend a camp there for siblings of cancer patients.

With a lot of excitement about to happen this summer, Abby said she also looks forward to returning to school this fall at Mountain View Christian Academy, where, despite being hospitalized for much of January and February, she managed to complete her sophomore year with straight-As.

“I’m hoping to actually be there this year,” she said.

A bake sale to help pay Abby Snider’s medical bills will be held from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Dollar Tree, 180 Rivendell Court, Winchester, next to Martin’s in the Rivendell Shopping Center on Va. 522 North. Volunteers are still needed for the following shifts: 8-9:30 a.m., 10:45 a.m.-1 p.m., and 1-2:15 p.m. For more information, call Kate Parker at 858-2586 or 336-5780.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com