By: Pat Winter
Two years ago this month, Carrie and Tracy Colson took a chance and moved their large blended family into a big house on Croatan Road. During their search for a new home, they were committed to staying inside the Perquimans County School District because of the needs of their fourteen-year old daughter Abby. They also needed a home large enough to accommodate their inter-generational family. Albemarle Plantation seemed to have just the perfect home for them with the added bonus of easy access to the golf course. This was ideal for Tracy and son, Hunter, who enjoy spending time together on the links. But how would a largely retired AP community react to a house full of teenagers and the coming and going of friends and cars that accompany teenage life?
“Everyone in the neighborhood has been wonderful,” remarks Carrie as she plays with and cuddles one-year old Avery, their first grand-child, who along with her mother Anna, has lived with the Colsons on Croatan Road since coming home from the hospital. The Colsons recall how several neighbors have taken a real shine to Avery, and folks in the extended neighborhood are regularly checking in on their daughter Abby, offering their help and support.
Abby, you see, is their 14-year old daughter who was diagnosed at age five with an inoperable brain tumor that takes up forty percent of the gray matter in her brain. It is located in both frontal lobes, and a growth in this region greatly impedes her limb movements and her ability to swallow, and results in significant vision loss. The doctors gave her six years to live, but today, Abby is a tall, articulate, healthy-looking teenager, now beginning her freshman year at Perquimans County High School. Her story and her family’s response to her diagnosis is a remarkable one.
When she was just an energetic five-year old, Abby was diagnosed with a tooth abscess. The dentist ordered a routine CT scan to help evaluate what should be done. It was then that the tumor in her brain was discovered. There had been no symptoms whatsoever to even suggest this inoperable tumor existed. Amazingly, today, nine years later, this tumor is the same size as when Abby was first diagnosed. Although she has had some vision problems, Abby has undergone no radiation or chemotherapy and just recently started taking some medications for migraines and seizures, two new symptoms that have developed during the last few months. “She’s a miracle,” Carrie comments.
One reason for the Colsons’ interest in living within the Perquimans County Schools is the continuing support the educational community has given to Abby since her diagnosis. The educational community is familiar with her challenges and unconditionally supports her by taking the precautions and exceptions necessary to insure her emotional and physical health and safety while she’s at school. Abby’s educational progress and cognitive development continue to be very typical, receiving only extra reading services to combat dyslexia.
Critical to Abby’s continuing good prognosis, however, has been her evaluations and treatments as an outpatient at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Carrie knew that being accepted into the programs at St. Jude’s was difficult and she was doubtful Abby would qualify, but while Abby was being seen at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughter in Norfolk, a new oncologist trained at St. Jude’s felt she was a strong candidate. He called St. Jude’s and within five days Abby was accepted there for evaluation.
Abby’s visits to St. Jude’s have been nothing short of remarkable, according to her parents. Her appointments, travel to and from the hospital for both Abby and her mom, lodging while they are there, meals, and recreation are all provided at no cost to them, nor do they have to file any insurance claims. St. Jude’s staff is dedicated to not only treating and researching pediatric cancer but providing patients with an environment that helps them to understand that their disease does not have to be the center of their lives.
This positive approach is also the course the Colsons have taken with Abby ever since her diagnosis. Carrie said she decided early on that Abby would not be known as the kid with a brain tumor, but just one of the gang who was being evaluated by cancer specialists.
Their positive attitude is undeniable and contagious. Abby’s case, however, is reviewed every three months at the National Institute of Health in Washington, D.C., and they cannot find another case like hers — anywhere. Yes, Abby is undeniably a very special and lucky girl.
During the week, the Colsons are busy working for A.R. Chesson Construction Company, but the weekend finds them focused on a home repair and renovation company of their own, Coastal Carolina Construction. “We are so busy,” Carrie commented more than once. Active members in the Open Door Church on Route 37 in Edenton, Carrie and Tracy are also committed to date night once a week and escape trips to Ocracoke just to go and “do nothing.”
The Colsons are now well-settled into their busy lives on the Plantation and grateful for the friends, neighbors, and church members who have become an important network of support for their family. Their biggest challenge at the moment, Carrie relates with a giggle, is how to get the teenage friends of their children through our security gate.
When you see the Colsons, don’t forget to ask about granddaughter Avery and inquire how Abby is doing. You’re sure to enjoy their wonderful, positive attitude and enthusiasm. Our community is fortunate to have them as our neighbors.