When their daughter fell ill, the parents of Abigale Latoszek were filled with fear and uncertainty, but they never expected cancer.
Artur Latoszek and his fiancée Staci Gale were watching TV and having a quiet evening at home. Suddenly, the gut-wrenching screams of their little girl echoed through the house.
Upon reaching her bedside, they found their daughter, Abigale, hysterical.
“She didn’t know me or Artur,” said Gale. “All she could do was scream. Nothing she was saying was audible.”
When the family arrived home from a walk earlier that day, Abigale was complaining of a headache and laid down for a nap, something her parents said was very unusual for her.
Two weeks prior, Abigale had also started complaining of chest pains. Gale says she called 811 but was told it’s normal for kids to experience chest pain.
Her parents realized very quickly that the terrifying episode unfolding on May 7, 2020, was not something normal, and they rushed her to the Janeway.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, only one parent could accompany a child into the hospital. Latoszek carried Abigale inside, and Gale stayed in the car.
“As much as Artur knew, he would tell me, but they weren’t even really telling him a whole lot,” said Gale. “I just sat there obviously very worried, wishing I could be in there.”
Gale waited in her car for eight hours.
At 3 a.m, Gale switched places with Latoszek. At this point, Abigale had started coming to, so Latoszek went home feeling optimistic.
“I thought, you know, they were gonna – whether it’s with medication or whatever they found – they were going to find whatever the issue is,” said Latoszek. “Treat it for a week or whatever it might be and then that would be it.”
During that first night, doctors took three rounds of bloodwork and discovered how low Abigale’s hemoglobin was. In the early hours of the morning, doctors told her parents what they suspected was wrong and gave them a heads up to expect a visit from an oncologist.
On May 11, doctors performed a bone marrow biopsy that confirmed their suspicions.
At just five years old, Abigale was diagnosed with standard risk B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
She says she doesn’t remember anything between the day she got sick and waking up in the hospital. But she does recall feeling scared and wondering “if I was gonna be really, really sick.”
Two days later, she started chemotherapy.
“The doctors did a really great job being reassuring about it and they felt very confident that they’d be able to handle it,” said Latoszek.
At the hospital, Legos, Barbies, phone games, and Tik Tok dances were part of the routine. Abigale’s parents did whatever necessary to keep her in high spirits.
They, however, fought their own battles in private as they put on a brave face for their daughter.
Between hospital visits, the couple’s tears, the heartache, the pain– it was all hidden from Abigale and confined within the walls of their home.
“Each day one of us would run home for an hour or two,” said Latoszek.
Gale describes it as “our outlet to get the emotion out so that we weren’t doing it in front of her.”
During the two years of active treatment, Latoszek and Gale cheered on each other, while they also cheered on their daughter in the fight for her life.
Gale and Latoszek have large groups of family and friends who all wanted to be there and cheer Abigale on, too. So, they decided to create an Instagram page to keep them all updated.
“It was just exhausting always being like, how is she, how is she? And then repeating the same thing over and over again,” said Gale. “So, I started it initially to keep everybody in the loop.”
People soon began following along with Abigale’s journey, and they received an outpouring of love and support from the public.
An avid hockey fan, Abigale received a signed hockey stick from the Newfoundland Growlers, and she received a personal video from her favorite hockey player, Mitch Marner, of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Local companies also started to join in, supporting Abigale with fundraisers and events.
A special honour came in early 2023 when Abigale was chosen as this year’s Janeway and Children’s Miracle Network Child Champion.
It is not rare
After 41 rounds of IV chemotherapy, along with a plethora of other treatments and procedures, Abigale rang the bell of hope on Aug. 17, 2022.
May 11, 2020, to Aug. 17, 2022 – an active battle for 828 days.
The Instagram page that was started to keep family and friends updated is now filled with posts highlighting the now thriving nine-year-old.
“She’s a nine-year-old who can tap, who can do hip hop. She’s in piano, she’s in voice lessons, she’s in the drama club. She does track and field,” said Gale. “And a lot of her followers like seeing that she’s able to do these things now.”
Abigale’s parents now use Instagram to raise awareness for childhood cancer.
“They say childhood cancer is rare. It is not rare,” said Gale.
Nothing can prepare a parent to find out their child has cancer, but for Gale and Latoszek, they hope by sharing the signs to watch for and by sharing Abigale’s story, it will help bring awareness to the topic.
For Abigale, she has one main goal.
“To help people get better.”
Abby Butler is a student journalist studying at the College of the North Atlantic. A lover of photography from a young age, she aims to tell her stories as much through photos as she does through writing.