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Monday February 27th 2017

MADDY HUNT: SPIRITED SURVIVOR

Maddy Hunt is not your typical eight-year-old girl.

Maddy is a self-proclaimed daredevil. The young girl enjoys zip lining great distances and riding Space Mountain at Disney World. Maddy has flown across the country and wants to return to Florida to venture onto the Tower of Terror. She plays softball and spends her time galloping around on a magical “pony” – one made out of her “big-girl” mattress.

Maddy doesn’t even let cancer stop her.

In 2004, Madison “Maddy” Hunt was born to her parents – Jay and Melissa Hunt. A healthy baby, Maddy inherited her silly personality from their humorous union.

The couple’s romance blossomed at a bank’s drive-thru. Melissa – a bank teller at the time – assisted her future husband on many transactions, and eventually, Maddy’s father – who refers to himself as the “scaredy cat” – finally found the courage to ask his future wife on a date.

“I was working at a credit union here in town, and he was a member. I worked the drive-thru, and he went through there, and that’s how we met. He actually proposed there too. I was in nursing school, but a friend of mine still worked there. He had just torn his ACL; he couldn’t get down on one knee, so he took me to the bank, and he had the ring there,” Melissa said. “He asked me if I’d marry him.”

In 2008, Maddy’s family received a new addition – her sister Karsyn. Like Maddy, the younger sibling found a rambunctious personality and spirit. When sleepy, Karsyn would become hyper and join her sister in running around the house, waiting for their next shenanigan to ensue; the girls were two peas in a pod.

Both girls were healthy babies, and Maddy grew to be a healthy toddler.

It wasn’t until Maddy began experiencing fevers at night that her mom knew something was wrong. Melissa assured Maddy she would be fine. She diagnosed it as a typical cold, nothing worse than a sore throat.

“She had fevers every now and then, just at night. Then the next morning, she would be fine, and we would send her to Pre-K. She did it a couple of nights in a row. My mother-in-law had noticed she was a little bit pale, so we just took her in to get her checked out.”

Physically, Maddy looked normal. Her long, brown hair fell one inch past her shoulders. She always had a headband at hand. Whether wearing bright bows, glittery pieces, or OU inspired decorations, her headbands always featured the coolest and latest fashions. These remained nestled at the top of her hair, preventing her square bangs from covering up her sight. It was her favorite hair accessory. It was a trait she would continue to hold on to.

During the check-up, she seemed in perfect health. Not even the doctor noticed anything wrong with the young girl. However, like other typical examinations, the practicing physician had to be completely sure. It was time for the blood tests.

“You don’t ever expect to hear that your kid has cancer,” Melissa said. “The attending doctor came in a few hours after we had been there, and she had looked at her blood smear under the microscope, and she could already tell that she had leukemia. I prepared myself for the next morning; we would know something in the morning. She came in and said she definitely had some kind of leukemia. It was just a big shock. You’re never ready for it.”  

Young Maddy was diagnosed with ALL – acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She was only four-years-old.

Unlike cancer treatments for adults, treatment for children begins right away. Less than 24 hours after the diagnosis, Maddy was whisked away to Oklahoma City to begin her chemotherapy.

“She was diagnosed Monday. We got the official pathology – what kind of leukemia it was – on Tuesday. She started chemo on Wednesday. They start it right away. I mean there’s no time to go home and say “we’ll start in a few weeks,” Melissa said. “They need to get it treated as quickly as possible. It was just overwhelming. She had surgery; they did a bone marrow and spinal tap on her. They did all this stuff.”

A few days later, the Hunts celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday. They gathered together all for the support of Maddy. The word “home” decorated their house’s archway, beckoning all visitors in. While the family found comfort and warmth in the words of wisdom and God’s messages along their walls, it was hard to face the truth. Melissa had yet to tell her daughter the effects of her new medication.

“On Thanksgiving morning, we were sitting there watching the parade, and they had a special on about St. Jude’s. She saw some of the kids on there. I said ‘See how those kids on there don’t have hair? It is because of the medication they are on.’ You have those moments where it’s just God saying this is for you,” she said.

The young girl quickly embraced her baldness. Even though a shopping trip soon ensued – Maddy, an avid shopper who loves Target – could not have cared less about buying hats. Her mother stockpiled on caps and other head gear – ones she would never wear.

“I bought a bunch of hats, and she couldn’t have cared less,” Melissa said. “When at first her hair came out, she would wear one for a while, but then she would just say this is itchy. She would always wear headbands. She didn’t care if she didn’t have hair. If a little kid can do this, it just puts a lot into perspective.”

However, when Maddy found out she had to switch to a new school, she worried what other students might think about her.  “She cried a little bit one night, and it totally took me off guard. Once she found out she knew the teacher she was going to have there and talked to a few girls at school, she was okay. She doesn’t let it get her down,” Melissa said. “She’s just pretty amazing. She is a little social butterfly.”

Maddy surprises her doctors every day. Since she has a bad reaction to the sedation medicine, she is forced to stay awake during many of her surgeries.

“She does her spinals awake,” Melissa said. “It amazes the doctors and nurses up there. They sedate most of the kids, but she doesn’t react well to it. She’s been doing that since she was six.”

After two and half years of chemo, spinal taps and more, Maddy had completed her treatment and had beaten leukemia.

“Kids are most likely to relapse in the first year, so we got to the year mark and were like “Yay! We made it!” Then the next month came along.”

Maddy’s leukemia had relapsed.

Two and a half years began again. However, this time, she was not doing it alone. She had her Facebook followers. Once Melissa found out the devastating news, she created a Facebook page dedicated to her daughter’s cause.

Friends, family, and others would receive the latest updates on the little girl and would be able to provide prayers and donations for Maddy.

“It is amazing. I know Lawton gets a bad rep sometimes about being a bad town, but it is really an amazing town,” Melissa said. People we don’t even know love and support her and us. I’ll have random strangers say ‘hey, we are praying for Maddy.’ It makes you feel good about humanity and about the people in our community. They really do care, and this is really a good place to live.”

Besides support, the community has also presented Maddy with rare opportunities. Recently, Maddy attended a Taylor Swift concert – her favorite artist – thanks to generosity of one of her fans. Maddy – decked out in a red ensemble – danced and even met Taylor Swift’s mother.

Already a celebrity in Lawton, Maddy has become known worldwide. With over 5,000 fans, Maddy receives thousands of prayers and donations to help with medical costs every day. When she reads the supportive messages and sentiments, she often asks her mom how she knows all these people.

“Do we know people in Abu Dhabi and Switzerland?” she asked.

Maddy has yet to let her battle keep her down. The thrill-seeker continues to seek out new adventures and ways to poke fun at her father. Maddy is a daddy’s girl; once she began chemotherapy treatment for the second time, the father and daughter team decided to shave each other’s heads. While Maddy now has some scruff on the base of her forehead, her father remains bald in support of his daughter.

Maddy can often be found using the squeaky voice she gets when she is excited to tell others that her daddy “screams like a girl.” When the two greet each other, hers usually begins with “Hi, queasy weasey!” Unlike her fascination with amusement parks and roller coasters, her father does not share this love.

“I have to take one of those medications you take for your stomach before you go on an airplane, but then I am okay to go with her,” Jay said.

Maddy’s father continues to be surprised by his daughter every day. His young daughter has undergone more chemotherapy than many people three or four times her age. She has also gone to heights that others would never dare venture. This summer, Maddy went zip lining. While Jay said he was scared of the heights, his oldest daughter had no problems.

“I asked her if she wanted to do like a countdown or something. I am thinking I am going to do the countdown. So we are standing up there, and she goes ‘Five, four, three,’ and before she says two, she is already gone,” he said. “I just jumped and went. There was no hesitation in her.”

Maddy’s treatment continues to this day. Most Fridays, she can be found either starting her next wave of chemotherapy or having her next spinal tap. Melissa and Maddy keep followers updated on her progress, telling supporters whether she is having a good or bad day. Maddy will receive hundreds of prayers from throughout the world.

“It really gets her excited that people from all over the world are rooting for her and praying for her,” Melissa said.

In her four years of chemotherapy and spinal taps, Maddy has rarely complained. She could do without the mouth sores. “If I don’t keep ice on them long enough, they can make it hard,” Melissa said.She has been known to post pictures of empty boxes of fast food – the latest being Chick-fil-a – to show her happiness that her daughter has finally been able to eat. Melissa ends all her postings with scriptures and other inspirational messages to offer her followers a “thank you” and to encourage them on their own endeavors. The mother and daughter hope their story will one day serve as an inspiration for other families facing similar hardships.

“We didn’t sign up for it; a lot of people hear the word “cancer” and think nothing good can come out of it, but we’ve met a lot of amazing people and made really great friendships,” Melissa said. “My main thing is to know in the darkest of moments, there are good things.

For the future, Maddy has given up her past dreams of becoming a tortilla maker in order to become a dentist. Her current goal continues to be to convince her mom to take her back to Disney World to ride her favorite roller coasters and dress up like her favorite princess, Belle, at the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique. “I don’t think it [the roller coaster] is icky,” she said. “I think they are terrific. I want to go back there so bad. I am going to go there again!”

The young girl – holding a list of achievements and adventures that could top those decades her senior – will have beating cancer a second time to add to her resume.

“She’s just amazing and has an amazing spirit. She puts a spark into everyone she meets,” Melissa said. “Even when she is not feeling good, she is always in a good mood and always cares about others.”