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Maddie’s hair is beginning to grow back, much to her relief.

For an eleven-year-old girl, losing her thick, beautiful locks was a particularly awful side effect of the chemotherapy.

The diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma came as a devastating surprise to Madison and her mom, Nicolle. Maddie, otherwise healthy and energetic, suffered a bout with appendicitis that landed her in the hospital. But after successful surgery, when Nicolle thought the doctor was going to discharge Maddie, she was delivered a different message. During the procedure, the surgeon had found a lymphoma. 

Nicolle was devastated. Some friends had recently died of cancer.

She remembers Maddie proclaiming fiercely to the doctor, “I don’t want to die. I want to live.”

Doctors assured them that this was a very treatable cancer.

“I had to hear that every day,” Nicolle says, because everything about cancer is terrifying. 

Once the shock of the diagnosis passed, Nicolle devoted herself to helping her daughter get well. “I tried to keep her as healthy as I could so she could make it through the chemotherapy.” As many parents know, the disease itself is terrible, but the treatment is almost as bad. Of Puerto Rican descent, Nicolle relied on traditional iron-rich remedies to keep Maddie’s hemoglobin counts high. And it became her mission to make sure Maddie ate. Whatever she was craving, whatever she could hold down, Nicolle made sure she had it. “Most of this was out of my hands,” Nicolle says. “But I provided her with a lot of love. And I made her eat!” 

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Nicolle and Maddie brought their own version of goodwill and healing to the hospital during Maddie’s impatient stays.

They made friends on the floor, and could often be found starting an impromptu dance party with some of the other kids to cheer them up.

And Nicolle would feed those kids too. “One of the other little girls wouldn’t eat for the nurses, but she’d eat for me,” she says, smiling. 

Although Maddie’s treatment was relatively short, it was intense. She had four high dose rounds of chemo, administered inpatient because they were so strong. And then every third week, there were the steroid treatments that sent this sweet girl into a rage. Once she started the steroids, Maddie looked forward to reiki treatments and the massages offered to patients, and she loved the dogs that visited the floor, but she couldn’t tolerate anything or anyone else. “It was like walking into a lion’s cage,” Nicolle recalls. 

They learned to take things a day at a time.

“She had her good days and her bad days, her emotional days and her happy days. She’d be okay one day, and in critical condition the next.”

When a new friend of Maddie’s from the hospital passed away, it was a very bad day.

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Maddie is out of treatment now. In May she was declared cancer free. She still has to have blood test and scans every few months, and Nicolle holds her breath waiting for those results. But she takes each day as it comes, and slowly life is returning to normal.

Madison, 11

Diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Stage 4 Burkitt's at 11