Abigail Abi Cruz isnt prone to tears, even though she has spent her sophomore year at Cardinal Newman High School in and out of the hospital, battling an aggressive form of bone cancer.
But the irrepressible 15-year-old was misty-eyed Wednesday as she hugged a group of eight women from Florence who have made her cancer fight part of their knitting ministry.
The women are among more than two dozen in the prayer shawl ministry of St. Anthony Catholic Church who have knitted 200 hats in Cardinal Newmans school colors of red, white and black. The hats were sold for $5 apiece to raise money for Abis health costs.
But more importantly, the hats have been worn by Abis classmates throughout the year to show solidarity with her as she battles osteogenic sarcoma, cancer of the bone.
Wednesday, the eight women who surprised Abi and attended the regular Wednesday Mass at the Columbia school also popped on the distinctive beanies in support of Abi.
I dont know if you really, really realize what a gesture that is, Cardinal Newman principal Jacqualine Kasprowski told the students as she described the knitting ladies as angels in our midst.
Abi and her family were overwhelmed as family members and the Florence women hugged and cried together.
They had learned of Abis cancer because one of their members, Patti Musto, is the grandmother of Cardinal Newman student Maggie McGovern.
Oh my goodness, said knitter Paula Rodery, as she wiped away tears. Everything we do with a prayer. Its so sad that a child has to go through this.
But Abi, who is scheduled for her next-to-last round of chemotherapy today, used the moment to praise the women and thank them for the support they have provided to her and her family, which includes younger siblings, Emily and Elijah.
I never imagined in a million years these ladies would extend their hands out, Abi said. They are so wonderful, they are so sweet. One of the eight, Ruth Drelich, knitted 80 of the hats.
Abi Cruz was diagnosed with cancer May 25 after she suffered a fractured arm as she broke apart several pieces of light-weight styrofoam for a science project. She thought she had injured the arm during a previous snowboarding accident, her father, Ken Cruz said. But the freak break prompted her orthopedist to probe further and order an MRI, which revealed the tumor.
Abi has undergone extensive surgery at the Medical University of South Carolina to reconstruct her shoulder and humerus, using donor bone, and continues chemotherapy at Palmetto Health Richlands Childrens Hospital.
Cardinal Newman student Callie Hall regularly spends the night with her friend in the hospital to buoy her spirits, because Alis my best friend and Id do anything for her.
Abis mother, Peatra Cruz, said the engaging, optimistic teenage spirit exhibited by Callie and Abis other classmates has kept her going during a difficult time. Often, she said, she would enter Abis room after working as a community development administrator for Lexington County to find eight or nine girls piled on the hospital bed with Abi.
When we are asked how she is doing, physically you can see the effects of the treatment, her mother said. But it has never tarnished her spirit.
The family had lived in the independent U.S. territory of Guam, where Ken Cruz was born and Peatra Cruz has roots. But the family moved back to South Carolina in 2010. Peatra Cruz, who was born in Charleston, thought it was time to be closer to her sisters, but she said God had another plan to also envelop them in the Cardinal Newman family during this trying time.
That has been so important, said Ken Cruz, who works for a chemical company. Everybody here in the school family has been a pillar.
That outreach and concern for others, principal Kasprowski told the students, is what it means to be the hands of God.