Va. girl fighting cancer gets memorable sweet 16 surprise birthday

Abby Snider, 16, of Winchester, Va. gets a special surprise birthday party courtesy of SAS Salon, Saturday Feb. 28, 2015. (Photo: WJLA/Jay Korff)

WINCHESTER, Va (WJLA) - We all want to have a day when the world stops just for us. 16-year-old Abby Snider of Winchester had no idea that her trip Saturday afternoon to SAS Salon would be the start of her remarkable day.

"I've never really had my makeup done. I had it done once for last year's winter formal," Snider said. "It's always exciting because I want to feel pretty."

Snider's desire to feel pretty stems from a year more frightening than most of us could imagine. She was diagnosed with leukemia exactly a year ago today. Her family says some of the medicines to fight her cancer nearly killed her numerous times. In fact, she was recently discharged following a 3-week stay in the hospital.

"There were times when I just didn't want to do it anymore and I just wanted them to kill me. But I knew they couldn't. There were other times you just wanted to give up but you have to keep going," said Snider.

To be clear, Snider has a fighting spirit, bright smile and cheery outlook that is contagious. Her parents wanted to do something grand for her 16th birthday, which was on Thursday, but mounting medical bills made anything special, impossible. So they hatched a plan with Tom Mitchell.

Mitchell runs The Stillbrave Childhood Cancer Foundation. The organization helps financially struggling families whose children are battling cancer. He helps them with the basics like rent and gas cards. Mitchell got to know the Snider's when they needed some help.

"You know the childhood cancer community we deal with a lot of ugly. But it's neat when you can see beauty even when it's not pretty and I think that's what's going to happen tonight," Mitchell said.

Here was the ruse. Mitchell asked Snider to join him at a big fundraising gala. He told her that to convince corporate donors to give his foundation financial support she needed to come along and deliver a powerful speech. She bought it.

"I called her under the guise that I need a child with cancer to come and speak on my behalf. So unbeknownst to her there's a surprise birthday party for her and her 100 of her closest friends," said Mitchell.

While Snider spent weeks working on her speech, Mitchell and many other people were secretly planning her birthday bash.

"That's the story! So I called Abby and said Abby I need you to write a speech and I feel terrible because the poor kid wrote this wonderful, beautiful, magical speech that she unfortunately won't be giving tonight," Mitchell said.

Mitchell, his staff and the Snider's worked with SAS Salon, AES Limo, The George Washington Hotel, Estate Serenity Imagery and other business to pull of the epic surprise.

While Snider was at the salon I asked her about the evening's events. She clearly had no idea what was about to happen. Her worry was making sure she delivered a moving speech. "It's one of my biggest speeches like length wise so I'm scared," said Abby.

Early in the evening Tom headed over in the limo to pick up Snider, her sister, her mother and a friend. Snider thought they were coming to the fundraising event for moral support. Snider still had no clue during the limo ride as she continued to focus on final edits and improvements to her speech. And she believes after all she's been through that her story can inspire other children with cancer.

"There have been really, really hard times but you just have to keep going, keep fighting, " said Snider.

Moments after arriving at The George Washington Hotel in downtown Winchester, Snider was ushered into a fancy ballroom where more than a hundred family and friends yelled SURPRISE!

It took a few seconds for Snider to realize that there would be no speech. The gala was for her. That's when she wept and fell into the arms of family and friends.

"It's been a very, very hard gut-wrenching year and we wanted to do something amazing for her, "said Amy Snider, Abby's mother.

"The look on that kids face, the squeals and the screaming when she walked through the door and look at all the people here. We pulled it off, "said Tom Mitchell.

"That was amazing! I had no idea!," Snider admitted.

A cancer diagnosis robbed Snider of her 15th birthday a year ago. So for her 16th birthday she was given, in abundance, gifts she will need moving forward: strength, love and normalcy.

"And I've always wanted my sweet 16 to be a surprise," said Snider.

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