Hospital celebrates 'very brave' Quebec toddler who finished lengthy chemotherapy
While other toddlers her age are focused on learning to walk and talk, two-year-old Maddison Chavez Espinosa’s milestones look little different.
On Monday, for example, she was cheered on by the oncology department at Sainte-Justine Children’s Hospital to celebrate finishing chemotherapy. Maddison has spent most of her short life in hospital, learning to cope with surgeries, and numerous treatments, all because of a brain tumor.
“She’s very brave, she’s very strong,” said her mother, Monica Espinosa Alonso. “I’m her fan number one.”
Maddison’s parents immigrated to Canada three years ago from Mexico and settled in Sainte-Adele. When they welcomed their first child into the world, they had every hope she would have a happy and healthy childhood.
However, Espinosa Alonso and her husband Cesar Chavez Gonzalez felt something was wrong with their baby when she was only four months old.
One of Maddison’s eyes was moving, non-stop, and they say she was no longer babbling or smiling.
A rush to the emergency room was the beginning of a harrowing journey.
“We were very overwhelmed,” said Espinosa Alonso. “As new parents we were thinking of the best but everything was pointing to the other side.”
A scan revealed Maddison had a brain tumor and within days, she underwent surgery to have it removed. Afterwards, her family got a devastating diagnosis. The tumor was malignant, a type of low grade glioma, one that is rare to see in a child so young.
Maddison’s oncologist, Dr. Yvan Samson, says this type of tumor isn’t usually aggressive, but unfortunately, Maddison’s was.
“Her tumor was quite aggressive,” said Dr. Samson. “It was operated first, completely taken out by [her surgeon] Dr. Weil, but within a few weeks it came back as big as it was in the beginning.”
Over the course of the year, doctors at the hospital tried two different chemotherapy treatments and a second brain surgery but the tumor kept returning.
By the fall, the options for Maddison were limited, because more surgery or radiation were deemed to dangerous for someone so young.
“It was very frustrating,” said Espinosa Alonso. “We saw she was not feeling well, there was lot of crying and she was not eating properly. It was hard to see our baby not evolving.”
Faced with the likelihood of palliative care, they tried another, longer round of a more aggressive chemotherapy treatment, and by February 2021, a scan revealed the tumour was gone.
“It completely disappeared, finally,” said Espinosa Alonso. “We were very happy, we saw our baby babbling, laughing and living the most of a normal life that a baby can.”
Maddison continued chemotherapy treatments and maintained a clean bill of health.
“I was surprised and happy that she had such a good response because we don't have other options to have something curative without severe side effects,” said Dr. Samson.
Maddison’s parents credit the staff at Sainte-Justine Hospital, with their daughter’s positive turnaround. She’ll continue to be monitored by the oncology team with scans and checkups, to make sure the tumour is truly gone for good.
They’re also proud Maddison’s story is being shared as the hospital kicks-off its annual Tree of Lights fundraising campaign. They want her story to give hope to other families who are struggling to get through their darkest hours.
“Some days we were here in treatment and she was not feeling well, and I heard the bell and I would come out and always clap,” said Maddison’s mother. “I would say ‘Oh Maddie, somebody's going home. One day you're going to do that, too.’”
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