David and Shannon Smith and their twin girls, Aidan and Bridget, were one of 1,700 families to lose their home in the 2011 Bastrop fires. The Smiths spent the next two years rebuilding their lives, but tragedy would strike again when Bridget was diagnosed with cancer.
Shannon remembers noticing things about Bridget that didn’t seem right—she looked pale, slept a lot and began losing weight. She experienced several episodes of severe hip and leg pain and low grade fevers. She was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas on August 15, 2014 at age 11.
Connected by Love
If the Smith family had learned anything after losing their belongings in the fire, they understood the importance of sticking together during difficult times. Bridget fearlessly faced her two-year battle with leukemia. “Bridget never cried,” says Shannon. “She looked a little worried and had questions, but she was like ‘OK, let’s get this done.’ She started chemo the next day.”
Shannon describes the first year of her daughter’s treatment as intense. Bridget suffered high fevers and negative effects from drug reactions. She spent many weeks as an inpatient at Dell Children’s. She also spent the entire year of sixth grade homebound and worked hard to maintain her A/B grade point average. But the most difficult challenge for the family was separation, Shannon says, especially from Aidan.
“I would go one entire week without seeing Aidan,” says Shannon. “She kept saying ‘don’t worry about me, just worry about Bridget.’”
The twin sisters have lived through good and bad times together and share a close bond. Aidan missed Bridget terribly while she spent many weeks as an inpatient at Dell Children’s.
“Bridget’s my best friend,” says Aidan. “When she was sick, I went to the clinic with her, watched TV with her almost every day after school, got her medicine, and helped her stay as comfortable as possible. One morning during flu season when I wasn’t allowed to see her in the hospital, Bridget woke up and wanted to see me. She wanted me to hug her. When my grandmother told me that, I cried.”
Keeping the Faith
Bridget will finish treatment in December 2016. She has developed avascular necrosis in her hip and both shoulders, caused by her treatments. She must undergo physical therapy to keep her joints flexible and keep the condition from worsening. “But she’s alive and walking and happy. We can deal with it,” says Shannon.
Bridget was selected to serve as a local Hyundai Hope on Wheels Ambassador to help promote awareness of childhood cancer. She is a member of Hungry Bunch, the CBCC’s teen support group, and participates in monthly events with Aidan by her side. Her family couldn’t be more proud of her.
“Because of the fire and cancer, Bridget is going to become a strong individual,” says Shannon. “She has learned it’s OK to have bad days, but she knows the importance of having a good day. And she knows you need to make your own good days and enjoy the little stuff. We had funny moments together, laughing in the hospital. We are lucky to have spent that time together.”
“I try to look at things the best way possible,” says Bridget, “and when I feel really down in the dumps, I make a pro and con list. Usually the good things outnumber the bad things.”
Aidan is at the top of Bridget’s good list. “We help each other,” Aidan says, “and we’ll be friends forever.”