But Maddie's symptoms grew from the initial fatigue, to severe shocks in her feet and lower legs, to the sensation of a 300 pound rugby player, who I think she named "Oscar", sitting on her chest.
The conditions worsened still, some of a private nature, and still others of an ocular nature. The pinches and shocks continued to progress up to her waist. The pain was excruciating. The symptoms progressed to the point that Maddie needed a wheelchair and a first floor bedroom because it had become too difficult and too painful to use the stairs in their century-old Victorian home.
Maddie has some awesome custom Converse!
There were countless middle-of-the-night trips to the ER, lots of blood work, several MRI's, a CAT scan, spinal taps (yes, plural) all of which left the doctors and specialists in some of the finest medical institutions in the Eastern US scratching their heads. There have been many helpful and compassionate professionals along their journey who have helped my sister navigate the complicated path of contacting specialists who may have held the secret piece of the puzzle that would put Maddie on the path to recovery.
There have also been some very large disappointments from some highly regarded specialists who reviewed Maddie's MRI's, inspected her without regard to Maddie's self-esteem, and after 5 minutes of their time told my sister the problem was all in Maddie's head, that she was a psych case. Still, there were others who suspected my sister of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, which meant they accused her of intentionally harming her own daughter to gain whatever satisfaction there is to gain from something as despicable as that.
The struggle to diagnose Maddie endured through February when at some final point of insistence a medical professional finally listened to my sister and reviewed the growing mass on the 3 MRI's Maddie underwent in the 4 month long journey, all of which had been reviewed by physicians and surgeons, specialists, if you will, who all discounted it as "inconsequential".
And it was malignant.
Maddie underwent surgery where they removed her thyroid; the tumor was that large, having been allowed to grow for 4 months. She underwent radiation therapy, which is scary stuff because they tell you that no one can be near her, or touch her or touch what she touched for about a week. And the pillow has to be tossed out afterward, along with the sheets. But she survived, and that's what we care about.
And we all prayed and held our breath, and hoped and wished and crossed fingers that Maddie would start to regain those things she'd lost. And some things were showing signs of coming back. She could walk better, for example. Her eyes were better. Some of the symptoms lessened. But there were other things that weren't getting better. She could no longer hold down food so she was fitted with a feeding tube.
And then it all started slipping back again. The tingling, the ocular disruptions, the breathing, and the fatigue were returning.
The diagnosis didn't end with cancer.
Two months after Maddie's diagnosis of cancer, by which time the cancer had metastasized to her lymph nodes, the surgeons and specialists all agreed that the paralysis was not due to "mental stress", but rather the paralysis was due to her being sick with cancer. Eventually, after almost a year of debilitating and paralyzing symptoms, Maddie was diagnosed with paraneoplastic syndrome (things that occur around a cancer, or "Neoplasm"), a condition related to cancer where the body mistakenly attacks healthy cells.
After the dismal experience at Johns Hopkins where the care Maddie received was not in line with the stellar reputation the hospital has maintained, my niece was referred to Mayo Clinic in Minnesota where once again we hold high hopes that the caring and compassionate specialists there will solve the riddle that Maddie's body holds; specialists in paraneoplastic syndrome.
Again, we'll pray and hold our breath, and hope and wish and cross fingers that Maddie will start to regain those things she's lost. We'll have confidence that the specialists in this particular case will be able to positively treat Maddie with the compassion she deserves and the results we're all wanting for her.
I have a donation box on the right sidebar of my blog to help fund the expensive journey my sister and Maddie need to take from Pennsylvania to Minnesota this fall or winter. All donations go directly to my sister, Laura, all of which will be used to help her family fund this trip.
I give my thanks to all of you who've read about Maddie's journey. Huge thanks to all of those who have helped support my niece and her family, whether it was with donations, a prepared meal, or a hug. You are all angels. To everyone reading this who has, or has watched a loved one struggle with a debilitating illness, you know the emotional strain this takes on a family and individual.
Maddie over the summer with her sister, Emily (top), and her cousin, Bridget (middle).