Meet Maddie - A Brain Cancer Survivor

September 27, 2018 5 min read

As a non-profit fundraising campaign under the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, Vs. Cancer empowers any athlete, any sports team, any community to help kids with cancer. They continue to fight against pediatric brain cancer day after day, year after year, for their STARS - the 28,000 children and teens living in the United States with a brain tumor diagnosis. Vs. Cancer likes to shine a light on these amazing kids everyday, but especially during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. STAR - Maddie Williams, a teenager and recent high school graduate living in Georgia, knows that cancer has helped to shape her life, but it will not define her..
I play guitar, mandolin, clarinet and piano.
I write original songs and instrumental compositions.
I sing, run long distances, play golf and (in high school) competed in competition cheer.
And I am a brain cancer survivor.
Hi, I’m Maddie. During my sophomore year of high school, I was diagnosed with a rare form of malignant brain cancer called Grade III Anaplastic Ependymoma. I had had a headache that just wouldn’t go away for about three weeks. I would tell my mom about it and she would give me some ibuprofen. I didn’t bring it up much so she didn’t realize it was non-stop. One night, my mom and I were going into Target to get a movie and brownie mix for one of our Girls’ Nights. I was excited because we were about halfway through golf season at school and I was doing really well. It was Friday night and my dad and brother were going to be out for the evening. My mom and I have a tradition when it’s just us: brownies and fruit for dinner and a movie the boys won’t watch with us.
I stumbled as we entered the store – I felt as though an ice pick had been jabbed into my left eye. My mom grabbed me and asked what happened. I told her but also told her I was ok and that we should go on with our shopping.
The next morning, I woke up with my head hurting so badly I was crying. A little while later I started throwing up. My mom is a physical therapist. Even though there was a stomach bug going around and even though headaches aren’t exactly uncommon in teenage girls, she was worried. When I told her it had been non-stop and getting worse for about three weeks, she told me to put on shoes. She told me she was taking me to the ER because she wanted a CT of my head. She actually said, “I need to know that you don’t have a tumor”.
On the way to the ER, I told her my arm was tingling and going numb. She asked which arm – I told her my right arm. Then my leg did the same thing. She asked which one – I told her my right leg. At this point, my mom was speeding, rushing to get me to the ER as fast as she could. She had to carry me against her hip into the hospital because I couldn’t walk by the time we got there, just 10 minutes from my house!
The CT scan revealed a golf ball sized tumor in the left side of my brain and that the entire left side of my brain was swollen. I was flown by helicopter to Scottish Rite hospital in Atlanta immediately. They put me on medications to bring the swelling down. My brain was so swollen they couldn’t do the surgery for three days.


While the team felt they had successfully removed all of my tumor, I was told that not a lot is known about my form of brain cancer except that chemotherapy is not effective in treating it and that, if I did radiation therapy, I could improve my chances of surviving. Even then, there would be a 30% chance that my cancer could return at any point in my lifetime – 2 years or 20 years down the road even! – and that, if it does return, there are few options available for treatment. So my mom and I moved to Houston for 7 weeks to start proton radiation therapy at MD Anderson.
During my time in the hospital, my time in Houston for radiation, and (really) ever since then, I have had constant support from the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. They send me uplifting notes and little “pick me ups” like Starbucks gift cards or bracelets. I have been included in their events like the Couture for Kids fashion show, Starry Night 5K and Ride for Kids. Looking forward to these events and getting to make friendships with other childhood brain tumor survivors has further brightened my journey. The staff members have become family – Mrs. Heather is my self-proclaimed “crazy aunt you didn’t ask for!” I love her so much. I have made so many friends through the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation – fellow Stars who are also brain tumor survivors. Even though I have only been on this journey for a little over two years, one of those friends has already passed away and another who is only 4 years old has had her brain cancer (the exact same rare kind I have) has returned.
My greatest passion is and has always been the field of medicine. When I was little, I watched my mother return to school to attend graduate school to become a Doctor of Physical Therapy. Originally, I wanted to be a physical therapist like her. As I got older, I became interested in orthopedic surgery.
I believe that all things happen for a reason and have purpose. I believe the purpose of having a malignant form of brain cancer is to direct my life to either removing it from or preventing it in other children.
I am lucky enough to still be able to mentally comprehend things at an accelerated level after brain surgery, radiation and other treatments for my type of cancer. Many of my friends whom I have met through having this diagnosis do not get to say this. Because of that, I believe that I am on this Earth to help kids like us. I am dedicated to volunteering to help them right now and am going to college to either become a neurosurgeon or to research treatments and cures. By doing this, I can help remove cancerous tumors from children who are diagnosed with brain cancer in the future or conduct thorough research in immunotherapies and treatment options for all childhood cancers. In this way I can share the gift that I received of capability and more importantly, of survival.
My mother posted a video on Facebook with pictures of the second year of my journey with cancer. At the end of that video, she paraphrased a quote I have heard her say often: “You see, it’s about playing the cards we are dealt as though they are the cards we wanted.” I don’t know that there are many people who would say they wanted to be diagnosed with cancer, but I will say that I know that I am a cancer survivor for a reason and that my having cancer will serve a purpose: to direct my life to remove cancer from and prevent it in other children.
I am a singer, a musician, a runner and a golfer.
And I am a survivor.
For each sale of the Sophia Stripe, a percentage of proceeds goes directly to support Vs. Cancer, a charity that empowers sports teams, athletes, and community members to help kids with cancer and to help find a cure.

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