Community Alert

Cassidy and Julie Abbott

Business major and softball player Cassidy Abbott, left, smiles with her mom, Julie, who has been fighting stage 4 breast cancer since January.

Most days, Cassidy Abbott is studying in the business department or tracking down fly balls in left field at Ona Orth Athletic Complex. But on the first day of interim break, she was at home with her family in Lonsdale, Minnesota, waiting for a doctor to call with the results of her mother’s biopsy. When the phone finally rang, Abbott didn’t need to hear the voice on the other end to know that a long journey was about to begin.

Abbott barely had a chance to process her mother’s stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis before it was upgraded to stage 4. Doctors had discovered an inoperable mass on the right side of her mother’s chest—an indicator that the cancer had metastasized. “It’s at that point that you start to ask, ‘What if?’” Abbott says. “What if she doesn’t beat this? What if we don’t have much time? But we learned early on that it’s better to be an ‘even if’ family. Even if this doesn’t go our way, Jesus has got us.”

Over the next few days, Abbott joined her mother for a parade of appointments detailing treatment options and called family members to deliver the news. What felt like the longest week of the year ended with a tough decision: whether or not Abbott would return to finish her junior year at Bethel. The thought of leaving her support network at school was daunting, but so was the thought of leaving her mom, who would soon start chemotherapy.

Ultimately convinced that her mom was in good hands, Abbott decided to come back for spring semester—and the outpouring of support was beyond anything she had expected. Friends dropped encouraging notes in her P.O. box, professors offered her flexibility with tests and assignments, teammates bought blankets, journals, and coloring books for the days her mom spent at chemotherapy, and parents of other softball players mailed cards and delivered hot meals on a weekly basis.

“I get overwhelmed just thinking about it,” Abbott says. “Looking back on my time here, I’m without a doubt going to be able to say Bethel had my back. You can look at the values and the mission statement, you can listen to admissions counselors talk about community, but it’s not until you experience all of it firsthand that you really see how Bethel stands apart. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else but here.”

As a former PSEO student, Abbott is well-connected throughout the university. She has participated in academic clubs like Bethel Business and Economics Association and the BethelBiz mentoring program, and she also works for several university offices as a graphic and web designer. Her passion for design sparked the idea to create and distribute custom bracelets bearing Proverbs 3:5-8 and the phrases “Joy in the Journey” and “Even If.” Within a month, more than 100 community members were sporting the red and pink bracelets around campus.

“The message doesn’t tie back to cancer, it ties back to Jesus,” Abbott says. “We all experience uncertainty, and the best thing we can do is depend on Jesus because he’s already won the battle.”

That’s the message Abbott tried to focus on during the softball team’s annual spring break trip to compete in Florida. It was the first time her parents weren’t there to cheer her on—but several of Bethel’s senior administrators were, including President Jay Barnes, his wife Barb, and Chief Advancement Officer Jim Bender. Aware of her mother’s diagnosis, all three offered Abbott their prayers and support. It didn’t take long for her to realize they really meant it.

Bender ordered “Joy in the Journey” bracelets for his entire office, and soon after Abbott was invited to share her story at the Royal Heritage Society dinner, an event meant to thank Bethel’s most significant donors. Bender purchased 400 more bracelets—one for every person in attendance. “We are called to more at Bethel,” Bender says. “We truly are a family, and if someone in the family is suffering, we’re going to be there for them.”

Barnes also wears a bracelet and has repeatedly shared how the Abbott family’s faith has impacted him. “I can’t believe the president of Bethel cares enough to not just wear the bracelet, but also show continuous support to our family,” Abbott says. “It’s so genuine, and we’re fortunate to have support from not just peers, professors, and the softball team, but from university leaders as well.”

As the youngest in her family, it’s hard for Abbott to imagine the possibility of a future without her mother. She hasn’t graduated from college, landed her first job, or gotten married, and she wants her mom to share in those life milestones—but, if there’s anything she’s learned in the last few months, it’s to enjoy the present moment.

Abbott plans to spend the summer with her mom in Lonsdale, where they’ll go for long drives, talk about life, and enjoy days without a schedule. “That’s what I’m looking forward to the most,” Abbott says. “Our time together is precious. I love learning from my mom and seeing her character shine. She really is teaching us all to find joy in the journey.”

Jenny Hudalla is a senior content specialist at Bethel University.

Reach Regional Managing Editor Suzanne Rook at 507-333-3134. Follow her on Twitter @rooksuzy

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