Eighteen-year-old Abby Bosarge is on TV. Channel 13, the news station out of Biloxi, WLOX. Your source for Gulf Coast updates, severe weather information, and Pat Sajak spinning the Wheel of Fortune at 6:30 P.M.
I turn it up.
Abby is looking right into the 6 o’clock news camera, smiling at heaven knows how many thousands of us in the viewing audience who are awaiting another nightly episode of Pat and Vanna.
I’ve never met Abby, but I find myself feeling nervous for her because, hey, it’s a big deal being on TV. Especially for a kid.
But Abby doesn’t look nervous, although God knows she has every right to be. Gazing deeply into a 50mm lens is brutal. For the unbaptized, staring at a TV camera is a lot like a possum staring at the high beams of a Peterbilt semi.
Abby wears a floral print dress. She is lean, with fair complexion. She wears a Gilligan hat to cover her recent hair loss. There is a bandage on an exposed area of her skin. She is beautiful. Blindingly beautiful.
I turn up the volume again because Abby talks quietly.
She tells the world about how her life went downhill recently. About how once she was a high-school athletic phenom, receiving offers from Division I schools. And about how recently the doctors told Abby she was dying.
Acute myeloid leukemia.
AML is an axe. This year about 20,240 people in the United States will be diagnosed with AML. It’s rare, but it’s wicked stuff. The five-year overall survival rate for AML patients is about 27 percent. Or you can think of it like this: only 27 percent of folks who hear the words: “You have myeloid leukemia” will live long enough to pay their doctor bills.
The treatments for such diseases are hell. If the cancer doesn’t kill you, the therapy will.
So the TV journalist is asking Abby about all this. And Abby’s doing great. She looks strong. She tells her story to those of us who are in our living rooms, all over the Gulf Coast. Abby talks about about her mortality. About the value of life. About hope.
And when she begins to weep before the camera, I cannot help but join her. So does the other TV viewer in my living room, a TV viewer I happen to be married to.
“Turn it up,” says my wife, confiscating the remote.
“I was so sick,” Abby says. “I couldn’t even drink or swallow…” Then she dabs her eyes.
And I’m imagining Abby’s audience right now. People like me, who have all stopped what we’re doing to stand before our glowing screens. Mothers in aprons staring at TVs. Old men reading newspapers who remove their specs, mesmerized by this child on Channel 13.
“Ablative therapy is just that,” Abby explains, “it ablates you. It destroys everything in you. It wipes out my entire bone marrow, my entire everything…
“They said they’ve never seen anyone recover from ablative therapy, there was no way that I was gonna be able to.”
Abby speaks about maintaining her school studies from a hospital bed:
“…To be forced to spend that time doing busywork, writing stuff for letter grades that won’t even matter once I’m gone…” More tears. “…It was hard.”
About her bucket list:
“…I wanted to bake for my grandparents and great-grandma. I wanted to see an Orlando Pride soccer game…”
She tells of things her school friends did in her absence:
“…They made a lifesize cardboard cutout of me and would bring it to every single school event…”
About missing out on her own graduation:
“[My friends] drove six or seven hours… and had a graduation ceremony here for just me…”
She speaks of small-town love, and its overwhelming power. And if there is a dry eye on the Gulf Coast it belongs to someone who ain’t living right.
The young woman on the screen swipes a palm over her wet face. “People think I should feel unlucky because of the cards I’ve been dealt. But I can’t help but feel like the luckiest person in the world. Because everyone has rallied around me.”
And I am standing before my television on an average May evening with the volume blaring. I am a middle-aged man who knows so little about life, and I’m listening to a kid who knows too much about it.
A girl whose doctors said she would die; a young woman who had the audacity to disagree with them, then followed it up with a miracle.
Abby leaves us with some wisdom she paid for earnestly:
“…They said I wouldn’t make it out of the hospital—and I did. They said I wouldn’t make it a week out of the hospital—and I did. I’m here now. Doctors study a lot for their work, but they aren’t gods. They can’t tell you when it’s your time to go.”
And then “Wheel of Fortune” comes on.