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May 15—ADA — Abigail Hawk survived three tumor removals before her fifth birthday. The Ridgemont High School valedictorian is now studying to return to the hospital that saved her life.
Hawk was diagnosed at age 2 with stage four neuroblastoma, a rare cancer that forms in a young child's nerve cells, often spreading from the abdomen to the lymph nodes, bone, skin or liver.
By the time she entered kindergarten, Hawk had already undergone three tumor resections in her abdomen and shoulder blade, followed by a series of stem cell transplants, chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Her eighth birthday was a special cause for celebration: she was now five years post-treatment, the highest survival rate for children treated for stage-four neuroblastoma. But the lingering side effects from radiation and chemotherapy followed Hawk through high school, requiring frequent trips to specialists and leaving Hawk feeling tired.
So, when Hawk couldn't play outside with her peers during recess, she volunteered in other classrooms instead.
She showed the family's hogs at the Auglaize County Fair and Ohio State Fair, gaining a sense of responsibility that once seemed out of reach.
In high school, Hawk turned to competitive cheerleading, challenging her body to tumble and lift her teammates into the air, proving that she could be an athlete despite the developmental complications from treatment.
And she studied intensely to prove to her peers that she was just like them, completing two semesters of college coursework before graduating high school, all while maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average and defying early expectations that Hawk's cancer treatment could lead to learning disabilities.
"I try to see it as if it didn't happen; that it wasn't part of my childhood, didn't take up my childhood," Hawk said. "My childhood was normal, and I've just been a normal person."
Hawk loved anatomy, voluntarily learning every bone in the skull. Her renewed interest in medicine offered a chance to revisit her past without dwelling on the traumas, instead focusing her efforts on the body itself and how she can help children living with cancer.
Hawk plans to attend the University of Findlay this fall, majoring in diagnostic medical sonography to one day perform ultrasounds on children at Nationwide Children's Hospital, where she spent much of her childhood.
The ultrasound appointments were the most relaxing for Hawk: "No one's telling her bad news," said Kimberly Hawk, Abigail's mother. "Nobody is saying anything negative. No one's creating a plan. You're just looking at cool images while talking to a nice individual."
Hawk will one day be able to recreate those moments, soothing another child feeling the same fears she once felt.