Maddie’s Gratitude

It all started in 2013 with extreme pain in my back and knees. What I thought was just an injury from playing volleyball turned out to be a tumour in my abdomen. The tumour was massive. It was 20 by 10 cm—about the size of a cantaloupe. I was 15 and had to quickly come to terms with the fact that, not only was I dealing with cancer; I was carrying around a 15-pound tumour in my abdomen that I hadn’t even noticed growing.

 

Neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that forms in nerve tissue. In the beginning, I had no clue what neuroblastoma is but, over the past three years, I’ve learned all about that and more.

 

My doctors at the Alberta Children’s Hospital had to come up with a plan of attack and that meant I had to go through four rounds of chemotherapy. But after four rounds of chemo, the tumour still wasn’t shrinking. That was bad news.

 

Fortunately, surgery was still an option. But the tumour was wrapped around my aorta, so that was extremely bad news.

 

But my surgeons fought for me and they didn’t give up. They put their heads together and decided they would try surgery in the hopes of getting as much of the tumour as possible—even if that meant removing only a portion of it.

 

I honestly can’t imagine how they felt going into surgery that day. I mean, I was gonna’ sleep through the whole thing. They had the hard part.

 

Well, if you can believe it, after 14 hours, my amazing surgery team was able to get the whole thing!! Imagine the skills and patience it took to do that. No one could believe they got the entire tumour. It was incredible news and a TOTAL game-changer!

 

Before surgery, I had asked them to take pictures of my tumour for me. And they did! Not like a selfie or anything. I can assure you it was all very professional.

 

Following surgery, I had to spend five days in ICU. Believe it or not, one of the hardest parts of my entire treatment was lying in bed with a breathing tube down my throat and not being able to talk for FOUR days! It was agony. It was the quietest I have ever been!

 

Even though, today, my cancer is gone and I am cured, I made friends who didn’t survive. And, that is why supporting pediatric cancer research through organizations like Kids Cancer Care is so important. It’s about saving EVERY kid. And making sure they survive with fewer side-effects from the very treatments that saved them.

 

So I survived cancer and people call me brave. I guess so. But imagine how daunting it must have been for my surgeons to go into that operating room. Imagine the skill it took to take out the entire tumour and not damage my aorta.

 

Imagine the pressure.

 

And the surgery is successful! But their job’s not done. Now, they have to ask me if they can have my tumour for research—to help other kids.

 

They did ask me. And I have to be honest. I hesitated, just for a moment, only because I kinda’ wanted to keep it myself. Like maybe get a shadow box for it and keep it in my room. That might have been cool. But then I realized my tumour would do more good in the hands of world-class researchers, so of course, I said they could have it.

 

I was given the opportunity to visit my surgeon Dr. Paul Beaudry in his research lab. He is studying my tumour to invent new treatments that will help kids like me in the future.

 

Dr. Beaudry is what they call a clinician-researcher and is part of the Experimental and Applied Therapeutics research initiative, which Kids Cancer Care helps fund, at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute and the University of Calgary.

 

What’s cool is that what he learns from my tumour can be applied by cancer researchers, not just here in Calgary, but all over the world.

 

So basically my tumour is famous!

 

In all seriousness, these amazing people helped me. They accomplished the near impossible and they gave me my life back. I am alive today because of medical research and modern health care.

 

But it’s not only through research and hospital programs that Kids Cancer Care helps kids like me.

 

Since surgery, I have been recovering and getting back to doing the things I love to do. I’ve have had to alter my life in more ways than one since my diagnosis. I stopped playing volleyball, which I never thought I would have to do, but that missing piece from my life has now been replaced with things like going to Camp Kindle!

 

I was told all about camp while going through treatment. Every time I went to the hospital, my nurses would tell me: “You have to try it! At least go for one weekend and give it a go.” I was very hesitant to go, though, because I would know no one.

 

I finally decided I would go to Teen Camp and try it out. My mom signed me up and next thing I knew I was on a school bus heading out to Camp Kindle. Everyone had friends; they were all really close and I didn’t know anyone. Not knowing anyone at camp is like walking into school as the new kid. But soon enough I was a part of everything going on. They made me feel as if I had been going to camp for a long time! It’s hard to express exactly how they made me feel included or what they did to make me feel welcome, but they just did. Everyone is so kind and cares about each other. There isn’t one thing they did to make me feel a part of camp; it was the many little things throughout the weekend, like hanging out with me, sharing stories, laughing, showing me around and sharing camp traditions with me. By the end of that weekend I didn’t even want to go home!

 

Since that first weekend of camp I have continued to go! I have met so many amazing people who I have stayed connected with outside of camp too. These people mean so much to me, because we can connect in a way that I am not able to with other friends. We have all been through similar situations and we have all changed because of it. I can tell my friends from camp anything and I know that, no matter what, they won’t judge me. Even if I do something really funny and embarrass myself because I’m good at that. I know they are there for me. They all have such big hearts, great personalities. They are hilarious and that is only the beginning of the long list of things they are. I can’t imagine my life without them anymore because they mean so much to me.

 

I am so thankful for the opportunity to go to camp because it is a place where cancer doesn’t define me. I can just go and be with people who are now my best friends. Camp Kindle is a place where you can feel comfortable and you are able to forget about what is going on and just have fun! It doesn’t matter what stage of your cancer journey you’re in, you are always welcome and accepted no matter what! It doesn’t matter if your family can’t afford it because you don’t have to pay for it, which is all thanks to people in the community who raise money, so kids like me can go to camp.

 

Camp also opens up so many doors for everyone and it has opened many doors for me. For instance, the Teen Leadership Program, where we volunteer at many events such as Kids Cancer Care’s Dad and Daughter Gala and Parents’ Quest for a Cure gala. I’ve been involved in Teen Leadership for the two years. We get to work on our fundraising skills and raise funds to travel over spring break to help impoverished communities in developing nations. I have been incredibly lucky to have gone to El Salvador on spring break of 2015 and the Dominican Republic this past spring break. These trips are so eye-opening and have made me grow so much. They are such an amazing experience and I am beyond lucky to have been able to participate on them.

 

It’s not only through research and camp that Kids Cancer Care helps families like mine.

For starters, the PEER. This is an exercise and physiotherapy program for childhood cancer patients that helps us regain our strength and get back to doing the things we love. Through their Cooking and Caring program, Kids Cancer Care also delivered home-cooked meals to our family, so my mom didn’t have to worry about cooking for a while. Imagine a freezer full of food. That was us. And I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship from Kids Cancer Care in June 2016, so I can further my education and achieve my goal of becoming a psychologist. I started university this fall.

 

Being part of Kids Cancer Care and everyone involved is truly an amazing community to be part of. They all support you and make sure you are doing well in a hard time—and even AFTER the hard time.

 

We should all be grateful to be a part of a community that gives us a sense of warmth. It makes everyone’s journey so much easier to deal with and NO one is EVER alone.

 

Kids Cancer Care is a big family and we all have one common end goal—to make sure everyone has a sense of belonging when going through cancer. I don’t know what I would do without Kids Cancer Care because they have done so much for my family and opened so many doors for me.

 

When I was sick, there were fundraisers held in my honour, but that’s because people knew me and knew about my cancer journey. They were my friends and family.

 

The fact that people in the community choose to help kids like me, doctors and researchers by supporting Kids Cancer Care—so many people you don’t even know—means so much to me. It’s truly amazing. I can’t thank you enough.

 

Thank you!

 

Maddie