By the time I met Chip Madren, the 13-year old had already been through more than most people experience in a lifetime. Thinking he had a concussion, Chip’s life changed in an instant with an ominous diagnosis of Metastatic (spreading) Anaplastic (aggressive) Medulloblastoma (brain cancer). He was rushed to the hospital where within 72 hours, he had two brain surgeries to remove the tumor. The surgery left him with Posterior Fossa Syndrome, a rare and debilitating complication. Overnight Chip went from outgoing and exuberant to mute, having to relearn absolutely everything – holding up his head, talking, swallowing, eating, sitting, walking, talking, using his hands – everything.
And there was still the cancer to fight. Grueling treatment included six weeks of cranial and spinal radiation and chemotherapy, six months of intense chemotherapy, another 9 months of oral chemo, multiple surgeries to place and replace feeding tubes, shunts and more. Over nine months, Chip spent more than 130 nights in the hospital. All before the age of 14.
My sadness for Chip and what he has lost is short-lived, replaced by feelings of awe. I’ve never seen a kid more determined, more courageous, more faith-filled. Confident that I would have drowned in the sea of challenges Chip has overcome, I am amazed by his ability to dig deep, to fight to regain strength and coordination, to reclaim his life from the cancer that tried to steal it.
With so much to deal with, Chip is and has always been acutely aware that his family has been “held” by friends, family and an ever-growing community of supporters. “The people surrounding and supporting my family have been our lifeline,” says Chip. “The term ‘lifeline’ is not one I use loosely. This support has saved all of our lives. My brothers Jack and Bret have not missed a baseball game or a birthday party. Dad’s friends supply the running seasonal hunting or fishing reports. My Mom’s friends run my errands and visit frequently to chat. It’s the friends who could have easily moved on with their own busy lives, but instead have chosen to stick around that I am so thankful.”
It’s hard to understand how someone burdened by so much at such a young age could possibly feel “blessed” but that’s how Chip describes himself and his family. “The Heavens were stormed with prayers of all types. There were Rosary groups, candles lit, little children’s bedtime prayers – Christian, Jewish, it didn’t matter. Everyone fell to their knees for me,” says Chip. “I will be forever grateful.”
Notwithstanding his physical challenges, Chip remains passionate about hunting and fishing and has found his way back to these beloved hobbies. Two years after he first entered the hospital, Chip, his father and a family friend boarded a plane for Oregon. Hosted by The Outdoor Dream Foundation, Chip’s dream to hunt again came true. Another community surrounded the Madren family, making arrangements, covering expenses, setting up an elk camp for Chip, who bagged a 6x6 bull. With tears in his eyes, Chip’s dad told the Newport News Times, “This is the thing we love to do together, and I had no idea whether or not what we’ve done together before would happen again. So to have this happen and have it come off successfully is great. It’s a pretty regal return to the outdoor realm.”
Today Chip is 19 years old and lives at home with his two teenage brothers, his parents and his service dog, Vera. Visually impaired, hearing impaired and confined to a wheelchair, he works hard every day to accomplish the simplest of tasks that most people do without thinking. He goes to therapy almost every day and works to exhaustion. He is determined to walk, at least in the house and other short distances and have some independence.
Chip says he never feels defeated because of another journey he has traveled along the way. While fighting for his life, Chip says he saw the gates of Heaven. http://bcove.me/so5h5umx. Knowing that “Heaven is for real” has made all the difference for Chip and his family.
I’ve never met another like Chip. My inspiration. My hero.