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Maddie’s story – Acute lymphoblastic leukemia

When Maddie was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the age of 3 at Niswonger Children’s Hospital, she
was quickly sent to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis to start treatments. For several months, she and her mother Elizabeth made the 10-hour trip to give Maddie the chemotherapy and specialized care she needed.

After Maddie was approved to receive her weekly treatment at the St. Jude Tri-Cities Affiliate Clinic at Niswonger Children’s Hospital, Elizabeth says she was grateful to be able to continue Maddie’s healthcare close to their home in Afton, Tennessee. With the hospital so close, Elizabeth can continue working and Maddie can stay with her mother and siblings.

“I love the people here. They have become part of our family,” says Elizabeth. “They are good with Maddie and have made her feel important to them.”

Being close to home makes late-night runs to the hospital much easier, according to Elizabeth. Maddie gets nervous when caregivers have to access the port needed for her chemo, and she isn’t comfortable with unfamiliar caregivers. “It seems like whenever Maddie gets sick, it’s in the middle of the night when the clinic isn’t open,” says Elizabeth. “But her nurses have given me their phone numbers and offered to come in after hours to access Maddie’s port. Our social worker has helped me get dental care. She would remind me to eat, and she has done so much for our whole family. I’ll be forever grateful for her.”

Elizabeth says the child life specialists also have been critical in making Maddie feel comfortable during her time at the hospital. “They play with Maddie and distract her from the procedures she is having. She calls them her friends and asks for them as soon as we arrive. And here they come with their bag of toys.”

Originally, doctors told Elizabeth that Maddie would require four years of chemo treatment, but she responded well and the timetable was cut in half. Unfortunately, other problems have cropped up since then, so Elizabeth says they will just have to see what the future brings and hope for the best. “We are positive and loving people,” she says.

Maddie’s spunk and resilience has led her mom to nickname her the “warrior princess.”  Elizabeth recalls that when Maddie’s hair fell out from the chemo and it started growing back, one day a woman asked her why her hair was cut like a boy’s. The question did not intimidate or upset Maddie. “She put her hands on her hips and told that woman, ‘I didn’t cut my hair like this. My cancer bugs did, and I’m still cute!’” laughs Elizabeth.

Now a veteran of weekly appointments at St. Jude Tri-Cities Affiliate Clinic, Maddie has also become a sort of ambassador for fighting cancer and a cheerleader for others at the hospital, says Elizabeth. “She visits other cancer patients to sing and dance for them, encouraging them to join in. She likes to help other people and make them smile,” says her mother.

Thankfully, Maddie’s cancer is now in remission. She continues with her treatments, and despite her own health issues continues to sing and dance for other patients and hopes to become famous some day. “She just wants to touch as many people as possible,” Elizabeth says. “Maddie is still so positive and full of joy and life.”