Madison “Maddy” Watts was the most brilliant hue of blue. She was a warm smile. Maddy was diagnosed with melanoma in 8th grade when a superficial mole was found on her left temple; it was hidden in her hairline so had it not been for the through check by her dermatologist, there is no telling what would have been in store for a kid of only about 13 years old. Maddy underwent surgery to have the malignant melanoma removed, was robbed of a few lymph nodes but overall, was going lead a perfectly normal life.
Maddy was never a tanning bed advocate, she grew up going to lake but with that upbringing, applying sunscreen was a familiar habit. She had the occasional burn, but for the most part, her pale skin remained as such. Maddy’s life was that of a normal kid from 8th grade on, until she started into her first semester as a college freshman at the University of Central Oklahoma. It was September; classes were getting deeper into their curriculum, test dates were approaching and Greek week had just come to an end. Maddy loved every exhausting moment, especially after she had committed to pledging Alpha Gamma Delta. As the month grew on though, Maddy became more fatigued, her appetite was off kilter and she had what we thought were stress nodules beginning to cover her body. The nodules were our first telltale sign that something was just not right. They seemed to multiply overnight from a few to several. After one in particular became quite bothersome to Maddy, we took her to our family chiropractor. One x-ray later, we were instructed to seek out Maddy’s dermatologist. We were apprehensive, but never in a million years did we expect the diagnosis we were about to receive. Within a week, the biopsy results were in from the dermatologist: Stage 4 Malignant Melanoma. A PET scan was ordered immediately and it took less than 24 hours to get another punch to the stomach; Maddy’s cancer had metastasized to just about everywhere on her body. Another scan later and it was it was the ultimate blow - the cancer had even made its way into her brain. We were lost. How to do we tell this precious 19 year old that she had basically been given a death sentence? Well, we didn’t. We didn’t tell her because we didn’t believe it was. If there was anyone, and I mean ANYONE that could overcome all odds – it was Madison; the youngest daughter to Mark and Jennifer, baby sister to Megan and Ashley and older sister to little brother, Zach. She was our peace keeper, the glue of the family and now God was going to walk with her on this mission; and so was born Maddy’s Mission. September 14th, we packed up her entire life, jetted down to MD Anderson and never looked back.
Maddy sustained an excruciating 8 month battle with the grace and dignity of someone who had never considered failure an option. During the very first car ride down to Houston, I can remember asking Madison if she was mad; if she was scared or felt jaded that this was her journey. She looked at me with the sleepiest expression as she was so fatigued from the illness already, and said “No, I’m not mad. I’ve got a family that loves me and would do anything for me to keep me safe. Not everyone has that. So no, I’m not mad. I’m going to be just fine” It was at that moment I realized God had equipped our little warrior with the exact tools she needed to endure this fight; He was her guiding hand and she was bigger than all of this. She was heroic. Once we arrived down to MD Anderson, the air of reality filled our lungs as we stepped into this new and unfamiliar arena and the race was on. We tried like hell to get even a step ahead of Maddy’s cancer, but felt like we were always falling two steps behind it, instead.
We soon found out after a spinal tap, that the cancer was also floating about in her Cerebral Spinal Fluid which was a major red flag. To first deal with that, an Ommaya reservoir was inserted into Maddy’s head for chemo administration to the infested fluid around her spine and brain. She was in the hospital for what seemed like years, but turned out was only the duration of a few months. The fluid was clear and we had our first miracle. The cancer inside her body continued to spread though, the unfair internal attack on her liver, lungs, kidney, stomach and spleen, is what kept us from moving forward so many times. Radiation was the next punch card for Maddy but she flew through it like an ace. Although she lost her gorgeous brown hair, the deep blue sparkle in her eyes never subsided, nor did the ability to swoon just about every person she came in contact with by example of her unshakable faith. Options were dwindling for chemo but we were still hopeful. There was something so resoundingly safe about the way our family approached this unthinkable situation: steadfast conviction in one another, especially Maddy. Another few months flew by and it was time for another series of scans. The new chemo was again not providing the results we needed. Plan C it is…or was it D? So many avenues you begin to lose track. It was time to go home once again; unknowingly, this would be Maddy’s last flight to and from MD Anderson.
Still, we came home with hope. Maddy, in spite of her sicknesses and fatigue coerced us into purchasing her what was her dream dog: a Bernese mountain dog that she named Ellie Mae. Ellie was to be a therapy dog when she grew up and Maddy was hell bent on making sure Ellie had the best of everything. She enjoyed that sweet puppy for an entire week before she was admitted into the hospital in OKC until God called her home on May 27th.
During that hellacious week, Maddy’s white counts had dropped so severely it caused the tumors in her brain to become unstable and rather quickly. With with blistered feet, body aches, thrush, severe nausea and an extremely low white blood count and hemoglobin count, we imagined this stay being a few days, a week at the most and we’d be out of there. A blood transfusion or two for the hemoglobin count, a shot to generate the white cells and antibiotics for the thrush…no problem. Maddy worked so hard, she drank tons of water, ate what she could, even got up and walked around a bit…she had a new puppy to get back to for goodness sake! We got word though, that although she was moving towards recovery she had contracted a small infection that required more antibiotics on top of the rounds she was already being given. Still, she was determined.
Eventually, she became quite frustrated when she began having trouble formulating her words. She knew them…they were on the tip of her tongue; she just couldn’t get them out. We had a scary few nights during an episode of losing lots of feeling in her right side. Maddy’s speech was off; she was losing feeling in her right arm and having trouble utilizing her right leg.
Another day of struggle and finally, an MRI was ordered as Maddy was just not…Maddy. She had stopped talking due to her frustration and the paralysis on her right side was growing significantly worse. We were heartbroken at knowing something had potentially gone awry. Last time we left MD Anderson, the MRI done showed her tumors were still stable but they told us if they suddenly became active they would be quite problematic, and the symptoms would hit Maddy fast. Now it was a waiting game to see what was causing our sweet Maddy to struggle so much when just a day before she was planning out her weekend. She had planned to do some training with Ellie Mae, catch up on some movies and watch Swamp Monsters because it was featuring mermaids – her favorite.
Another agonizing morning; as night times were a struggle and we were positive something was NOT right. Finally, our team from MD Anderson was able to consult with Maddy’s oncologist here in OKC. Maddy’s brain tumors, specifically the one on her left frontal lobe, had in fact become unstable and was quickly growing and pushing on the ventricles of her brain that controlled most of her right side. We heard from both MD Anderson and the team at Mercy that they weren’t sure there was much more to be done. At first we were overcome with devastation, and then a moment of clarity hit us all. We are not done. We will not be done with this fight until we’ve run out of rope. Maddy was stronger than this. They immediately started her on some steroids to try and get the swelling down in hopes of reliving some of the paralysis. Then we asked about our options. She did full brain radiation several months ago and while she’s not a candidate for that again…there were still so many other alternatives. Yea, we’ll take those, please. Our family managed to pull ourselves off the floor, find the courage still left in the pits of our hearts and forge on. Maddy was still there behind all the confusion, we saw several glimmers of it and we will not give up on her.
Then, a brand new day breached. The steroids were starting to accomplish great things and there was hope, belief, courage and determination in all our eyes…including Maddy’s. She voiced in her most delicate tone that she was not done fighting. Our family is brought to its knees at the fortitude of this small child. She is in the trenches and sunk in a low valley in this journey of hers, but with God’s guiding hand we just knew she would again make the steadfast climb back to health. He, however, had other plans in store and took her home Memorial Day 2012. She spent the last few hours of her life surrounded by family who ensured her that although it would feel next to impossible, that we would manage to find a way through life carrying her in solely in our hearts. She didn’t deserve a lifestyle of cancer and was free to dance away with God.
Maddy always preached to love a little harder, forgive a little easier and when in doubt, dance like there’s no tomorrow. She was a fierce lover of life who never knew a stranger; she was the most loyal of friends, befriending all persons, no matter their chosen paths and entangled herself in every opportunity that came her way; she was truly a child of no fear. Although Maddy is no longer physically here with us, her Mission lives on. She will continue to serve as a symbol of awareness against this terrible disease. She will serve as a token of strength and compassion, for Maddy’s Mission is a ripple of great things to come.