By: Giana Gagliardotto
“There was something just deafening about hearing you have lymphoma,” Maddie recalls as we sat in our little booth at the SPC café. Cancer is a card many hope they will never be dealt in life, but for twenty-three-year-old Maddie Miller, that card was already drawn. Maddie was diagnosed with lymphoma, or cancer of the lymph nodes, at age twenty. Maddie won her battle with cancer, but she knew the real fight wasn’t over just yet. This is Maddie’s story of not only surviving, but thriving.
In 2013, her grandfather was diagnosed with lymphoma. However, this was not a typical granddaughter and grandfather relationship.
“My grandpa was like my dad. My dad lives in Atlanta so we’re just not close. He was the one I wanted to walk me down the aisle and all that stuff. When he was diagnosed, I had just gotten an internship in California, so I called off my internship and stuck around to wait for him to heal.”
This was just the beginning of her journey, as much more awaited Maddie than she could have ever expected.
“In May, I was on my way to work and I had weird chest pains, so I called my primary. Long story short, I ended up in the ER. They found a tumor in my chest and biopsied it, and it came back as lymphoma.”
The same week, Maddie received her life changing news; her grandfather lost his battle with lymphoma. Her grandfather’s fight would not be in vain because Maddie used his example of faith and humor as fuel to push herself through treatment.
“Because of my faith in God, I prayed immediately at the point of diagnosis and felt this peace that took over every chaotic bit of cancer. It swept away the fear.”
However, as Maddie recalls, her battle was never fought alone. “Throughout my eight months of chemo and radiation, Harborside was huge because they were my support system.” Harborside is the church Maddie has been attending for nine years and counting. From some of the girls cutting their hair, to people driving over an hour to see her, she always had encouragement. “I never felt like I had to fight cancer alone,” Maddie said with a smile.
In February of 2014, after almost a year of fighting, Maddie was finally in remission. However, the fight was not over yet. “There’s a cancer fight when you have it, but then there’s a fight after because of the things chemo does to your body,” Maddie explains. “People look at cancer as one big struggle, but it’s really just a blanket word for a bunch of different struggles. There’s a lot of insecurity. There’s fear that comes with it. There’s depression that comes with it.” It took quite a while to fully heal, but by 2015, Maddie was ready to use her journey to benefit others. She felt a calling towards change in the cancer world- a calling she could not ignore.
“My baby, my little baby,” Maddie chuckled as she began talking about the company she created called Spark the Way. “It came out of a couple different things; the need for young adult support in the cancer world because there really isn’t any. It came out of a sense of bringing light to such a dark place.” Maddie glowed as she continued to describe how she wanted to share the same kind of support her community and Harborside gave her. Her main goal through the company is “Ultimately, to connect a young adult survivor with a young adult patient.”
Donations and membership can be made at www.sparktheway.org. Change is occurring everywhere. We just have to be a beacon to others and “spark the way.”