Press Release

Release Date: June 25, 2024
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

DENVER – A cancer survivor is preparing to compete in the 2024 Miss Colorado pageant in July and aims to bring a bit of hope for the future to others touched by the disease.

Abby Dennis, 24, will compete for the state title July 13-14 in Lakewood, Colorado, as Miss Vail. One of her goals is to bring awareness to non-Hodgkin lymphoma and offer hope to survivors through her community service initiative, “Hope Child.”

“My aim with this initiative is to make the conversation about fertility preservation for young adults and adolescents diagnosed with cancer much louder,” Dennis said.

Hope Child’s tagline: “having cancer isn’t a choice but having a child should be,” is deeply rooted in Dennis’ experience in her fight for her life.

Dennis, a Chickasaw citizen, who grew up in The Woodlands, Texas, near Houston, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2021. The diagnosis not only presented challenges, but it also changed the trajectory of her career path.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (also known as NHL and lymphoma) is a cancer that starts in white blood cells, which are called lymphocytes and are part of the body’s immune system, according to the American Cancer Society’s website. It is one of the most common cancers in the United States, accounting for about 4% of all cancers.

The American Cancer Society estimates about 80,620 people will be diagnosed with NHL in 2024. This includes both adults and children.

A four-year member of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill dance team while pursuing dual undergraduate degrees in exercise and sport science, and psychology, Dennis was constantly mindful of her wellness and took great care to stay healthy.

When a little bump on her arm appeared and would just not go away, she sought medical treatment.

“I had just graduated from college and noticed this little bump on my arm that looked like a cyst, so I went to the doctor. They biopsied it. It ended up being cancer,” Dennis said.

“It was extremely shocking and unexpected for me. There is no genetic component, it hadn’t run in my family. I’m not a smoker. I’m super healthy, so it was quite a bit of a shock.”

Her cancer was discovered soon after she had accepted a fellowship to attend graduate school at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, and auditioned and earned a spot as an Indianapolis Colts National Football League cheerleader.

A lifelong dancer and performer, her teammates rallied around her and supported her through grueling treatments.

“They made just the world of difference for me.”

Being on the team, “was truly one of the best, if not the best, experiences of my life,” she said.

During her battle with cancer, Dennis’ career goals also changed.

Originally, she was planning to go to graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in sports psychology.

She would not let cancer stop her from continuing with her plan.

“I am very stubborn. I didn’t want to stop my life for cancer and ended up traveling back and forth from graduate school to home in Houston where my oncology team is,” she said.

A couple of years later, she took a break from grad school to focus on having the time and space to heal. She ended up making a career change to the nonprofit space, where she has worked for about a year.

“I now work at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, which is really cool for me to be part of, to be of service to others and to do good with this bad thing that happened to me.”

Pursuing the title of Miss Colorado is part of her overall plan. Now cancer free, she hopes to earn scholarships from the pageant organization so she can pursue an amended goal of earning a Ph.D. or master’s in nonprofit administration and leadership and become an executive at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

She also has hopes of becoming the first woman to wear the crown as a non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor.

“I am deeply passionate about serving as a voice for patients and families who’ve been touched by cancer, aiming to make cancer care affordable and improve access to clinical trials, now and in the future,” Dennis said. “I’m excited to not only be representing the cancer community, cancer patients and cancer survivors when I compete, but also to represent the Chickasaw Nation.”

She’s grateful for all the opportunities the Chickasaw Nation has provided, including support while pursuing her higher education goals.

Dennis can trace her Chickasaw heritage and tenacity to the family of Montford Johnson, who is known as the Chickasaw Rancher.

“My great-great maternal grandmother was Adelaide Johnson, the older sister of Montford Johnson. Adelaide married James Bond. The couple had Redford Bond, who is a member of the Chickasaw Hall of Fame,” she said.

Following the death of her first husband in 1864, Adelaide married James Bond, a trader and stockman, who worked with Montford in the ranching business.

Adelaide was known for her hospitality, providing food for cowboys driving herds near her home on the South Canadian River in Indian Territory. She was also known for her philanthropy.

Philanthropy and sharing goodwill are family characteristics Dennis hopes to continue through her community service initiative “Hope Child.”

“I’ve learned since being diagnosed that less than 50% of physicians and health care providers talk to their patients about fertility preservation before they start the ever-important lifesaving treatment,” she said.

Dennis said by providing the information, cancer victims can focus on life after the disease, which brings a sense of hope and peace.

“I want to bring those conversations to the forefront and give others education that I didn’t have at the time. For me that was important to get through the harder days, to have something to hold on to. To think about what life could be after cancer.”

The Miss Colorado 2024 pageant is July 13-14 at Denver Christian School in Lakewood, Colorado. Miss Colorado 2023 Madison Marsh was crowned Miss America 2024 and will be a special guest at the pageant.

More than $1 million in scholarships have been awarded since the start of the Miss Colorado program.