Having cancer can really cut into your social life. That’s why Maddie, then 16, kept herself entertained during her long and frequent hospital stays, by making friends with everyone she met – including her doctors and nurses. And while Maddy made every attempt to keep the mood fun through the most difficult and frightening time of her life, the love she has for her care team is something she never takes lightly.
Maddie is a spitfire and refuses to let anything – even cancer – dampen her spirit. During a volleyball tryout, she started to experience bad pain in her back, knee and hand. She visited her family doctor and tests came back normal. The next time she felt the pain, she went to the Alberta
Children’s Hospital and again, blood tests came back normal. But when
specialists checked her stomach, they noticed her spleen felt enlarged.
The ultrasound they ordered revealed a large mass behind her spleen that
was 20 cm by 10 cm in size. The CT scan that followed showed that the
mass was a tumour and a biopsy showed it was cancerous – a devastating
diagnosis. The tumour was actually wrapped around Maddie’s aorta, and so
it was too risky to operate at that point.
First, to try and shrink the tumour, Maddie needed four rounds of chemotherapy, which caused her plenty of sickness and discomfort. Christmastime was tough – she woke up on Christmas morning with her hair falling out. But true to her positive attitude, she hosted a head-shaving party the very next day and then a fundraiser at her school called Maddie’s Manic Makeover. Shawn Meadows Hockey Association, which Maddie’s brother plays for, also got on board and hosted a fundraiser. She wanted to turn something negative into something positive and raise money for neuroblastoma research.
Unfortunately, the chemo wasn’t shrinking the tumour and Maddie was still in a lot of pain. Despite the risks, it was determined surgery should be the next step. Her surgery team set out to “de-bulk” the tumour, with the goal to remove 70% to 90% of it. The team operated for 14 hours, which was an agonizing time filled with worry for Maddie’s family. However, it was worth the wait because the team was actually able to remove the entire tumour – all 15 lbs. of it. It was donated to the “Tumour Bank,” where researchers can take samples of it for their work. Maddie says she likes to think of it as the Hockey Hall of Fame for Tumours.
If it wasn’t for her caregivers pushing her to get back on her feet after a battle with cancer, Maddie says she wouldn’t be back to her regular, sassy, and happy teenage self. Her cancer team and the dedicated surgeons who removed the grapefruit-sized tumour from her aorta are her superheroes.
As a way to thank them, she’s raised more than $38,000 for the hospital. “They’re all just so amazing and I’d like to thank them all for doing everything they can do,” says Maddie. “They don’t stop, they just keep going -- they’re cheering you on, getting you to the finish line.”