ANGLETON — In her pictures, 6-year-old Abigail Arias is bold and charismatic. Whether hoisting a fish she caught or dressed up for a daddy-daughter dance, she always wears a brilliant smile.
A 5K benefit run Saturday at Angleton’s Freedom Park aims to make sure that smile continues lighting up Brazoria County, raising money and showing support for the Arias family as Abigail fights cancer for the second time in a little more than a year.
Abigail was 4 years old when she was diagnosed in February 2017 with stage 4 Wilms’ tumor, a form of kidney cancer most often found in young children. Her aunt, Olivia Arias, remembers Abigail playing with her children at their Angleton home during the Super Bowl. There was no indication anything was wrong, she said.
Days later, doctor’s found a tumor spreading through Abigail’s abdomen and into her lungs. She began treatment at the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. Over the course of the year, she battled through chemotherapy, radiation and surgery to remove the tumor and one of her kidneys.
Abigail was declared cancer free in October. But a quarterly test in April discovered the cancer had returned in her lungs.
Doctors again started an aggressive campaign to rid her body of the disease. Abigail finished her fourth treatment this past weekend and will undergo two more. Each round involves seven chemotherapy sessions over a three-day period.
Through it all, Abigail’s bravery, faith and joy have remained a beacon of inspiration for those around her, said family and friends.
“One of the biggest things my daughter has been able to teach people is to be strong even in the worst circumstances. She’s always smiling and laughing. She makes the best of everything,” said her father, Ruben Arias. “It’s amazing what she’s taught me. I’m 43 and she’s 6, and I’ve learned that from her — how to be happy even in the worst situation. She doesn’t let this thing beat her up.”
Olivia, her aunt, said Abigail never feels sorry for herself. During treatments last year, Abigail would casually explain the various hook-ups, instruments and procedures to her cousins when they visited her in the hospital. Back home, she’s always active, Olivia said, riding bikes and playing softball for the first time this spring.
“When she first started losing her hair, we thought, well maybe she should shave her hair,” she said. “But she didn’t want to. She never saw anything different about herself. We laughed because she thought she looked like her dad, because her dad doesn’t have hair on the top of his head.”
Even when the cancer returned, Abigail was the one to bring hope to others. Ruben was at work when he got the call from his wife, Ilene, who is a second-grade teacher at Westside Elementary school in Angleton. She and the kids had stopped at a Cracker Barrel in Pearland on their way back from the hospital. Ilene was crying.
“My daughter looks at her and says, ‘Do you need a hug?’ She says, ‘Yes,’” Ruben said. “Then my daughter whispers into her ear, ‘Don’t worry about it, Mom. They’re going to get it all this time.’”
Ruben said the outpouring of support from the community, family and their church at Second Baptist in Angleton has left him speechless.
“Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are,” he said. “A big thank you to all the prayers that we have received from all the prayer warriors through social media, and to our Lord and savior for always being there for us.”
Chrissy Strother, who met Abigail and her family through church, organized the 5k benefit run this weekend to show the community is still 100 percent behind Abigail. All of the proceeds from the run, as well as a silent auction to be held after the race, will go directly to the Arias family to help with medical bills, she said. T-shirts with the slogan “We’re gonna love you through it” also will be available for $10.
“She knows she has an army behind her, but it actually helps her to know that when she sees all the people who have one of her shirts and who are there to back her up,” she said.
The race and silent auction are open to the community. The race starts at 7:30 a.m. at Freedom Park in Angleton. The silent auction will begin after the race. Participants can pre-register through the “Team Abigail 5K” Facebook event by today, or register at the event at 6:30 a.m. Saturday.