A teenager has been given a ‘second chance at life’ after getting the all clear from cancer – 14 months after being given just three months to live.
In October 2015, when she was 17-years-old, Maddy Richie was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer after noticing a lump in her pelvis.
Now 19, Maddy, from Terrigal, Australia, wants to share her story.
She told UNILAD:
It was just a few weeks after I graduated from high school. I was looking ahead to the future when I was diagnosed with stage IV Rhabdomyosarcoma Cancer.
The residing tumour was in my pelvis and was 8cm big, the tumour itself was only just a few centimetres away from attacking my bladder, bowel, cervix and left thigh.
Maddy said she first noticed something was wrong when the tumour started to ‘stick out’ just beneath the skin. The skin around the lump also started to turn yellow and purple.
I also was very short of breath and was struggling to breathe at times, I suffered loss of control in both my bladder and bowel and I could barely walk let alone get upstairs – I had no energy.
I then had the tumour biopsied and scanned – and unfortunately, it was so much worse than I thought. I was solely convinced it was just a cyst of some sort. You don’t ever think its cancer, why would you?
On the day of her diagnosis, Maddy said she was given three months to live and only 4% chance of making it past three months and was immediately referred for highly intense treatment.
Doctors told the teenager her tumour was inoperable as it was too close to her main organs.
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Talking about that moment, she said:
At the time none of it felt real, I was numb. I just immediately went into a headspace of just wanting to survive, or just wanting to be able to live a little bit longer. I had just left school, a place I pretty much resented by the end, and I definitely was not ready to die.
Within the first three weeks of treatment, I lost pretty much all my hair and went to my school formal bald.
The Cancer stole away the life I thought I had and stripped me of what I looked like.
For the first few months, Maddy admits she was afraid of not waking up each morning and said she would relax by mediating, visualising her body attacking the cancer.
After almost the first 10 weeks of intensive chemotherapy, I had my scans. I felt by this time the cancer had somehow gotten smaller, and was beginning to no longer stick out as much as what it was.
I was right, the cancer had shrunk by more than half. My doctor was baffled, as he had never seen such a tremendous and quick reaction with this type of cancer ever before.
A huge weight lifted off my shoulders, death was no longer lurking or waiting for me anymore, well at least I thought, for now. That feeling was indescribable.
Maddy continued her treatment for 13 months as well as six weeks of radiation in what she describes as ‘possibly one of the most horrific experiences’ she has ever been through.
She lost 10 kilos, was barely eating and for around three to four months at a time, she endured a pain that ‘no human should ever be put through’.
I had third-degree burns in the lower part of my pelvis which caused many complications. My kidneys began to fail and I was awake for about three hours of the day. The rest of the time I was drugged out by mostly morphine or very strong pain killers.
Throughout my time on treatment I wanted to die at least 10 times over, cancer is very isolating feeling as no one really gets it unless they have been through it themselves.
My life was pretty much dictated around my hospital stays and when the next treatment was. I hated hospital with a passion, it was a cold, depressing place. I knew it was helping me but hospitals are just awful. I had little to no life for quite a very extended amount of time, most days were spent in bed. I was pretty much a zombie.
Maddy said despite everything, she truly believed in pushing on and said she was determined to not die.
The mind is a very powerful thing, I don’t think I would be here today if I didn’t think the way I did 90% of the time. I listened to my body, I ate what I felt and did what I could. I tried to live my life the best I could during that time.
I loved being bald and in fact, I never felt more empowered in all my life than walking around being bald, especially as a woman too.
You see the true colours show in all the people that surround you, some people I lost along the way, commonalities died out as I changed and so did others, yet I did gain some amazing people and relationships.
By the end of her treatment, she was exhausted. Maddy said she fell apart, not knowing how to go on with life and that it was ‘almost like I forgot how to be normal’.
After staying so strong for so long, she said she learned that she needed to fall apart to move forward because she’d had no time to during treatment.
Tragically, the treatment has left Maddy with premature ovarian failure which means she might not be able to have children naturally.
I have hope but it’s only very tiny. I always wanted children, I felt it was a part of my life purpose and was always a dream of mine.
Whether or not miracles can happen, I know that I can also give life to a child out there who may need a new home one day in the future. Only time will tell.
Despite everything she has been through and has yet to go through, Maddy is remaining optimistic about the future:
I have recently been clear of my cancer and I am six months out of treatment. I am now looking forward to the future but with constant check-ups, of course.
I still face a very high chance of relapse for the next five years, but I truly believe it will not come back.
Finally, Maddy told UNILAD:
I would never take back my cancer now for anything. I wouldn’t be the person that I am today.
When you are faced with such a horrific experience, you see life in an even more amazing and in depth way. It changes you, you can choose to look at bad but I choose good. You find purpose and hope within yourself even when you feel there is no light to the dark you may be faced with on your journey in life
I feel I have almost been given a second chance at life and have woken up.
Now Maddy hopes to educate people about cancer and believes it is something that should be incorporated into all schools worldwide as this is something that can happen to anyone.
She has written a book in the hope of helping educate others about the reality of cancer and spread awareness of childhood cancer.
What an inspiration!