By Susan Winn, Madison’s mother
Our journey began on August 26, 2007. It seems like yesterday … yet, at times it seems like a lifetime ago. At that time my daughter, Madison, was 15 years old and an active high school sophomore and cheerleader. She loved everything about being a teenager …friends, school, texting, learning to drive, and shopping. She enjoyed her life and carried on with no worries. All that changed with one trip to the emergency room.
Madison had been complaining of headaches for a few weeks. I took her to the pediatrician to discuss her headaches, and we were pointed in the direction of a pediatric neurologist for what we thought were migraines. Within days, her headaches persisted and became more severe, especially in the mornings. On that fateful day, August 26, she woke up with her morning headache, but this time it was accompanied by nausea and her vision did not seem quite right. I made the decision to take her to our local ER, thinking we would be given migraine medicine and simple instructions to rest. It only took one hour to determine exactly what was causing her headaches. And it only took one look at a CT scan to know our life would be forever changed. The simple, carefree life we had known, was gone … erased. The young, precious ER doctor looked sad and shaken as he pointed to a large mass in her left cerebellum and said, “We know exactly what is causing her headaches. She has a large mass on her brain.” I could not make eye contact as I stared at the computer screen and the image of my daughter’s brain but managed to ask, “So you mean she has a brain tumor?” He replied, “Yes, I am so sorry.” And that, my friends, is how our story began.
We were immediately transported to Scottish Rite via ambulance where we were met by our wonderful neurosurgeon, Dr. Boydston. He was the neurosurgeon who happened to be on call that night, but we knew immediately he would be our hero, our friend, our confidant. He performed life saving surgery 3 days later to remove the large mass in her brain. It was confirmed a few days later that the tumor was called medulloblastoma, and she fell into the high risk category. Her brain tumor was malignant so within days we met with our amazing neuro-oncologist, Dr. Claire Mazewski. Madison’s treatment plan included radiation to her entire brain and spine along with 9 months of high dose chemotherapy. Her treatments were very difficult, and she spent more than 220 days in the hospital for infections, low blood counts and other complications from the harsh medicine. She used a feeding tube, received more than 40 blood transfusions and underwent a second craniotomy.
Despite these setbacks and other complications, Madison is now cancer-free and living life again as a high school teenager. Her cancer journey was long and difficult, but after two and a half years, Madison’s life is back to normal … a NEW normal. She returned to high school full time this fall, attends youth group at church, works out with a personal trainer and is looking at colleges. She enjoys speaking to large groups about her cancer experience and hopes to someday work in a children’s hospital offering inspiration and hope to other cancer patients and their families.
Madison’s life has taken a new direction and one that we have all embraced. She refers to her cancer experience as a “gift,” as she is able to enjoy all the simple things in life and not sweat the small stuff. She credits her faith, her family and all her wonderful friends and neighbors who have supported her along the way. We have met incredible people and have been blessed with incredible doctors and nurses. In short, we never could have walked this journey alone.
We have been blessed beyond measure to have the support of CURE Childhood Cancer and be part of their wonderful family. The support we received from the beginning was incredible. We are forever grateful for the Thursday night dinners in the hospital, the visits from the staff and volunteers, receiving the latest and most current information, as well as participating in the fundraising efforts to find a cure. CURE helped us when we needed it the most and continues to help by pursuing cures for all children with cancer. Thank you CURE for all you did and will continue to do for other patients and their families.