It’s common to hear bells at the UAMS Radiation Oncology Center. When a patient completes their final treatment, they celebrate by stepping up to the large brass bell on the wall and giving it a ring.
For 8-year-old Abigail Lewis, however, one ring was not enough.
After finishing a milestone 30th radiation treatment, Abigail grabbed the braided rope hanging from the bell and rang and rang and rang again.
“Abigail was so excited to ring the bell. She told me she was going to ring it really loud,” said her grandmother, Alice Shelton.
A resident of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, Shelton moved temporarily to Little Rock with Abigail so she can undergo daily treatments.
“I wish I could take her place. It’s hard to see your grandbaby go through something like this,” Shelton said, adding that while the experience has been emotionally draining, it also has a silver lining.
“We’ve gotten to spend so much time together that we would not normally have. That’s been special,” she said. Due to the length of Abigail’s treatment regimen, her mother remained for the most part in their hometown of Bentonville to continue working and caring for her younger brother.
It was early 2018 when Abigail began experiencing severe back pain. After being diagnosed in May with a rare form of cancer known as Ewing sarcoma, she soon started chemotherapy at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, an affiliate of UAMS.
Most commonly found in children, only about 1,000 new cases of Ewing sarcoma are diagnosed each year in the United States, said Jose Peñagarícano, M.D., professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Radiation Oncology.
Peñagarícano specializes in pediatric radiation therapy and oversaw Abigail’s care at the center. As the only facility in Arkansas to provide radiation therapy for children, the UAMS Radiation Oncology Center sees patients from across the state and neighboring states.
Because Abigail’s cancer, which is located in her spine, was caught early, it had not spread to other parts of her body. That fact increases her chance of a successful outcome.
“If Ewing sarcoma has not spread beyond the primary tumor, we are able to cure about 70 percent of patients,” Peñagarícano said.
Although Abigail still has 22 chemotherapy treatments ahead, Shelton was glad to see her granddaughter complete a milestone in her treatment.
“We’ve gotten so attached to everyone at the Radiation Oncology Center that it’s going to be kind of sad to leave them,” she said, adding that she draws strength from watching her granddaughter.
“Everyone who meets Abigail just falls in love with her. She’s so happy and strong. If she can be happy through all of this, I can be happy too,” Shelton said.