Healthy You - Every Day

Abby Fights Cancer With Help From Her Friends

Abby Agarwal and her doll, Pinky, found lifesaving friends at Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital

Abby Agarwal and her doll, Pinky, find lifesaving friends at Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital

“Abby takes me wherever she goes. We go to karate class together. We help each other fall asleep. And when Abby got sick, I even went to the hospital with her. We found lots of friends there who made Abby feel better.”

If Abby Agarwal’s doll, Pinky, could talk, that’s what it would say. Pinky has been by the young girl’s side nearly every day of her life. They’re like best friends.

When Abby started having recurrent fevers, she met more friends at Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital. It’s the community’s only children’s hospital and the only Lehigh Valley-area hospital that cares for kids with cancer. These friends helped save her life.

Abby defeated a real foe when she partnered with the only children’s hospital close to home that cares for cancer.

A scary diagnosis

Abby’s fevers would come and go every few weeks. The first episode occurred in March 2018. “Her fevers were as high as 104 degrees,” says Abby’s father, Prateek, “We were scared.” Without a clear diagnosis of the cause of Abby’s fevers, a bone marrow biopsy was performed. The results: Abby had B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL).

What is leukemia?

The most common type of cancer in children is acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of white blood cells. Abnormal cells form in bone marrow and outnumber healthy cells, leading to low blood counts, pain, fever and other serious problems.

The good news: It’s curable

The day after Abby was diagnosed, she started treatment. The first phase involved aggressive intravenous chemotherapy in the hospital. During phase two, Abby visited the hospital weekly for treatment. Eventually, Abby was able to take medication orally at home.

Receiving care near home, instead of Philadelphia, was important to Abby’s family.

“We knew the doctors, and they knew Abby. All treatments could take place here, and it was a comfort having the Children’s ER nearby for the times she had a late-night fever,” says Prateek.

New friends

While Abby was undergoing treatment, Pinky wasn’t the only friend supporting her. A team of child-life specialists (health care professionals who work with children and families to help them cope with the challenges of hospitalization and illness) were by her side as well. 

Child-life specialists use video games and other distractions to help kids through procedures, sometimes preventing the need for anesthesia. If a child is sedated, they also talk to parents during the procedure to help them understand what is happening. They also play and have fun with kids during their hospitalizations.

To help explain cancer treatments to Abby, the child-life specialists used a “chemo duck.” Dressed in hospital pajamas, the cuddly stuffed animal has a port, which helped Abby understand what it was (a device that is used to draw blood and provide treatments) and what to expect. Also, every time Abby needed care that made her scared, a child-life specialist was there to support her.

A joyous sound for a courageous warrior 

On Nov. 15, 2020, Abby received her last treatment. As most cancer survivors do at the Children’s Hospital, she triumphantly rang a bell to proclaim that she was cancer-free (with her Children’s Hospital friends in attendance). Of course, Pinky was there, too.

Throughout Abby’s treatment, she inspired her loved ones and even continued taking karate classes, where she was strong enough to break boards and developed a passion for a certain karate creed: 

“I am here to develop in a positive manner and avoid anything that may reduce my mental concentration or physical health.”

She brought that affirmation to every treatment, and along with her care team, it helped her triumph against childhood cancer. More than two years later, Abby is still in remission and grateful for those who continue to keep her healthy and strong.

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