When I got the call as I was waiting in line for a concert in Pittsburgh, I had no idea how much one piece of information could change my life. Like a pebble tossed into a pond, what happened sent a ripple of effects. I was informed that one of my closest friends, Abby Frohnapfel, had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Hearing the news shocked me to the core. Abby had been in and out of the hospital for tests and fainted during one visit to Reynolds Memorial Hospital, resulting in an ambulance ride to Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital. Her diagnosis was sudden and surprising, but the cancer was detected early, and according to her doctors, was very treatable.
Once the news spread, my friends and I immediately wanted to help. We started Abby’s Army to raise money to help her family pay for her treatment. With the combined costs of medical expenses, gas money, and the price of eating out in a bigger city, we knew the situation would be expensive. The best gift we could give to her, though, was our time, so we visited Abby as much as possible.
When we first visited in May, her entire face lit up. We brought books and birthday cards. We traded goofy stories from driver’s license tests to math teachers. When we asked how she was doing, she simply replied, “Tired.” We knew Abby was downplaying her situation just so we wouldn’t worry. Despite it all, Abby still laughed her same, great belly laugh when Billy Fox launched into grave detail about his driver’s test and when Visakha Turner and Jacob Nelson updated her on the gossip. She told us about seeing the fireworks from the Pirates game outside of her hospital window. Abby wasn’t going to let her diagnosis get her down. She hated hugs but still agreed to some before we left that day. Her extremely supportive and loving family was also there. Her mother, Brenda, thanked us all for coming and let us know Abby had really been looking forward to our visit. Our time with Abby inspired us to raise as much money as we could to help her and her family.
In the end, Abby’s Army raised over $1,200 dollars for Abby in two weeks. I was amazed by the commitment and kindness others showed. Students who had never spoken to me before gave generous donations and promised to send prayers for Abby and her family. We saw an entire school come together for one bright, intelligent, kind-hearted girl who was fighting with absolute, unfaltering bravery.
During our second trip to visit Abby, we became keenly aware of her struggle and the true gravity of her situation. Once happy and energetic, by mid-July she was tired and frail. It was extremely hard to watch a good friend go through something so serious. We were now seeing the true, ugly effects of cancer, and it was devastating. Abby was still hopeful and never, ever gave up. She still cracked jokes, smiled, and listened to all our crazy stories. Joseph Lucey, Shelby Howard, Abby and I talked like we always had before. We said our goodbyes, oblivious to the tragedy that would soon happen.
Abby kept in contact with us through text, and we talked about anything and everything, except for her cancer. Her situation did not define her; Abby was still Abby, who loved her pigs, history, and books. She had her entire future ahead of her, and this was just a detour in life’s grand scheme. Despite it all, she never once complained. She had always been an independent, fiercely devoted girl who could do anything she set her mind to, and her fight just proved it further.
One night after driving back from school shopping with Megan Pulver and Shelby Howard, I received a call from Emily Yoho. She asked me what I knew about Abby since she had seen something peculiar on Facebook. I told her what I knew: the cancer had gone to her spine, but she was still stable. Emily called me back after Facebook messaging a relative of Abby’s. Abby had passed away. Nothing had ever hit me so hard. A lead weight had been dropped on top of my stomach. I told Megan and Shelby. My mom tried to console us, but we were in shock. None of us ever thought it would come to this; the cancer was found early, and it was supposed to be very treatable. On the long ride home, I thought of the memories we had shared with her in the past few years. I remembered us singing along to the Spice Girls in Spanish and complaining about boys. Digesting news like that is impossible because it doesn’t feel real. Abby was so young, younger than I, and her life had been cut short.
The days that followed were extremely difficult, but we relied on our circle of friends for support and comfort. We stood side by side through the memorial, the procession, and the burial. Our emotions shifted from shock, to denial, to anger, to sadness, to numbness, and back around again. None of us were prepared to lose such a close friend. She was the heart of our group; she embodied all the greatest traits we hoped to portray.
Abby affected us each in different ways. Her personality enhanced ours in a way because she made us feel comfortable enough to be ourselves. I cannot speak on behalf of our entire group of friends, but I know Abby made me feel inspired to achieve what I wanted. She never deterred me from my aspirations; in fact, she encouraged me with great enthusiasm and pride. Her belief in others always made them believe in themselves.
It’s hard to come to terms with a loss this severe at such a young age. The injustice of the situation can bear down on me at any given moment on any given day. Not a single day goes by where I do not think of Abby. I miss her more and more every day. It still feels like she could walk into our class and sit down just like usual. A valuable member of our group was lost on August 6, 2015, but we will never forget her and the positive effect she had on all of us. We will continue to run Abby’s Army and raise money to help other students who are struggling with life-threatening illnesses. Along with that, we want to make every day count. Losing Abby was a horrific tragedy that unfortunately made us all intensely aware of how short life can be. The proper way to live life is to live it as Abby would want us. She was friends with all kinds of people with different backgrounds and personalities. Her ambition was unparalleled; she would stop at nothing until she got where she needed to be. Abby was the person I want to be. Her personality was the first pebble in the pond that started a chain reaction of ripples, affecting us all uniquely. Until we meet again, I’m doing my best to keep making her proud of me every single day.
Editor’s Note: Brandi’s tribute to her dear friend Abby originally appeared on the John Marshall high School Blog.