In April 2008, around Maddy’s second birthday, her pediatrician found a sizeable swelling in her abdomen. Scans revealed that Maddy had a grapefruit-sized Wilm’s Tumor on her left kidney. Three days later, she underwent surgery to remove the malignancy.
This was just the beginning, unfortunately. The rare childhood cancer had already spread to several inoperable spots on her lungs and outlying lymph nodes, making it far more dangerous and difficult to treat Stage IV cancer. Thus began Maddy’s long, arduous road. Maddy’s twin brother was soon drawn in, too. Though Jack seemed his usual healthy self, doctors at CCMC recommended that he be tested, too, as Wilm’s Tumor often runs in families.
Their father, Joe, recalls, “When our worst fears were confirmed, and Jack was found to have a Stage II Wilm’s tumor on his left kidney we were devastated.” For the next two years, the family and their two youngsters were in and out of the Oncology Unit.
Joe and the twins’ mother, Maura, became veterans at keeping spirits up — their own and the twins’ — and at being regulars at the nearby Ronald McDonald House. “We learned to step back and let the team of doctors do what they thought best. Still we knew we had to be our kids’ advocates and we really appreciated how sensitive the doctors and nurses were in explaining every detail. Nothing was ever easy for the doctors or for us.”
Their primary doctor, Arlene Redner, MD, recounts, “Maddy and Jack had very different reactions to hospitalization and to chemotherapy. Jack’s Wilm’s tumor was discrete enough to be removed with surgery and follow-up chemo, but he was quite unnerved by being in the hospital. By contrast, ‘Maddy the Brave’ adapted to everything despite having more advanced and highly resistant cancer. After Maddy’s first relapse we recommended that she have an autologous transplant in our Bone Marrow Unit as a more aggressive approach.”
Once again, the doctors put this heroic little girl through another round of chemo, but this time they also harvested a collection of her own cancer-free stem cells and a few days later reinfused the cells back into her bloodstream where it was hoped they would overpower the resistant tumor cells.
Jack has returned to school generally healthy, but Maddy’s particularly advanced cancer requires that she return to CCMC for a CT scan every three months. As for the family, every now and again they sing their favorite Bob Marley song as a kind of family anthem: “Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be alright.”