After a two-year process, Maddison was about to be officially adopted by the family she’d become part of and loved. But the bloodwork required of children being adopted led to a startling discovery: Maddison had cancer.
Lisa, the adoptive parent of 6-year-old Maddison “Maddie” Rose, is clearly charmed by her granddaughter. “Maddie is a very loving little girl, and her happiness is infectious wherever she goes,” says Lisa. She then adds with a laugh, “Maddie is a very colorful child. ‘Plain’ is not in her vocabulary — or her wardrobe!”
Lisa and her husband, John, spent two challenging years dealing with family services officials and Maddie’s birth parents to adopt the little girl. As the adoption was finally about to happen and a date set in August 2017, Maddie began to have low-grade fevers and complain of being tired. Since the adoption process required Maddie to get blood tests to check for tuberculosis and HIV, the family pediatrician decided they might as well do a complete blood count.
“All the numbers were in the basement,” says Lisa. Maddie’s pediatrician suspected anemia. A retest two weeks later showed even worse results. “The pediatrician called on Sunday at 9 a.m. — never a good sign — and said, ‘Get her to a hospital today.’ That was scary.”
Plans put on hold
They headed to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Emergency Department. Tests revealed Maddie had acute lymphoblastic leukemia — and the adoption date got postponed in order to revise the medical plan that’s part of the process.
“Maddie kept asking, ‘When is my adoption day?’” recalls Lisa.
Additional tests were needed to determine her cancer’s risk level. “We told her, ‘We finally found out what was wrong with your blood, but we need to do another bone marrow biopsy.’” When Maddie asked why another test was needed, Lisa considered the little girl — thinking of Maddie’s room, her clothes, her love of crayons — and answered, “They need to find out what color the leukemia is.”
A cheerful room in the face of leukemia
Maddie spent two weeks as an inpatient at CHOP receiving chemotherapy. “Maddie’s room was like the party room,” says Lisa. “The windows were completely covered with window markers signed by all of Maddie’s visitors and nurses. That’s Maddie.”
Once discharged, Maddie faced eight months of rigorous treatment as an outpatient, and the family decided to go to the Oncology Clinic at CHOP’s Specialty Care & Surgery Center in Voorhees, N.J., which is near their home. “It was a little scary going to a new place — but we discovered it wasn’t a new place,” explains Lisa. They had already met one of the pediatric oncologists who see patients at Voorhees, Nicholas Evageliou, MD, when he had visited them at the Main Campus. “Whoever we called knew about Maddie. They work so hand in hand.”
Maddie is now on monthly, less intensive, maintenance chemotherapy. She likes to color and jump on a trampoline. She adores the family’s seven cats, four horses and their dog, Bandit. But most importantly, she loves her family. John and Lisa adopted her in October 2017, and she now has their last name, Toothman.
“She wanted to be a Toothman because her sister and all of us are Toothmans,” says Lisa. “Maddie was just looking for some place where she could fit in — and she certainly found it!”