Maddison is kicking cancer to the kerb
Children’s Hospital Foundation makes sure kids like Bundaberg’s Maddison Challen are surrounded by fun and positivity, SHERELLE MOODY writes
LITTLE Maddison Challen has endured more in the past year than most of us will experience in a lifetime.
Maddison’s mother, Vanessa, says the Bundaberg five-year-old is a “really special and a very happy little munchkin” – despite the pre-schooler being diagnosed with a soft tissue cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma in July.
Vanessa first suspected something was not quite right with her daughter when the youngster complained of a sore leg as the family was about to board a flight from New Zealand to Australia.
“She wouldn’t eat or drink and she was lethargic.
“We knew something wasn’t right.”
As soon as the family arrived home from their holiday, they took Maddison to the doctor, expecting to find nothing more than a small fracture.
The scans of her bones came back all clear, but doctors discovered a strange lump in her tummy.
“The doctors came into the room and said ‘You are going down to Brisbane for an MRI’,” Vanessa said.
“We knew as soon as they said that, that it wasn’t a good sign – that something serious was wrong.”
Twenty-four hours later Vanessa, Maddison, husband Glen and Maddison’s brother Andrew were in Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital where they got the cancer diagnosis.
Rhabdomyosarcoma impacts muscles, tendons, cartilage and bones and is one of the most common soft tissue sarcomas found in children.
“It was causing her so many issues – her bladder was enlarged, her kidneys were getting backed up because she couldn’t pee, she was in pain because the tumour was pinching the nerves going down her legs and she was lethargic from being sick and having no nutrients,” Vanessa said.
Doctors are unable to remove the grapefruit-sized tumour because it has a blood supply and it’s wrapped around Maddison’s kidneys and her arteries.
They hope radiation and chemotherapy will reduce the mass enough for it to be removed.
“The ideal would be removing it when it’s small enough and if it’s not in a position where it will compromise her health,” Vanessa said.
“There’s no guarantees for her future. It could impact her fertility, there could be relapses and the chemo itself could lead to further cancers.”
While supporting a child with cancer would be hard for any parent, the struggle is extra tough for Vanessa and Glen who as nurses know all too well the worst possible outcomes for kids in their daughter’s situation.
“We know too much,” Vanessa said.
“It’s been really hard – some days I’m good, but some days I just want to cry.
“It’s hard to cope but I have to.
“Maddison doesn’t like to see me upset.
“The hardest part is being away from my support networks back home.”
When not at Lady Cilento, Vanessa and Maddison live rent-free at the nearby Childhood Cancer Centre.
Glen remains in Bundaberg to work and care for six-year-old Andrew, but returns to Brisbane as much as possible.
Maddison and Vanessa will remain in Brisbane until May next year.
Their time at Lady Cilento will be made a lot easier with the help of the Children’s Hospital Foundation.
From clown doctors to cuddle carers and music therapy, the foundation and its team of volunteers do their best to ensure Maddison is surrounded by fun and positivity, particularly when she is receiving treatment.
❝ Maddison really loves her music therapy and bedside play. — Mum Vanessa
“Maddison really loves her music therapy and bedside play,” Vanessa said.
“It has really kept her engaged and helped to break up her long days in hospital and always cheers her up when she’s having a hard time.”
Maddison was one of 989 Wide Bay residents treated at Lady Cilento last financial year.
The youngster is taking on a big challenge, helping to promote the annual Channel Nine Telethon supporting the Children’s Hospital Foundation on Saturday.
The appeal aims to raise $11 million.
As well as supporting patients at LCCH, donations pay for medical equipment, research and medical services at Lady Cilento and throughout Queensland and Northern NSW.
Donate at 9telethon.com.au or by phoning 1800 909 900.
POSITIVE: Bundaberg's Maddison Challen takes a break from cancer treatment at Lady Cilento Children's Hospital in Brisbane.