Just seven months ago, Madison Fedak was a happy 5-year-old without a care in the world other than the daily challenge of learning to ride her bicycle without training wheels.
But on Saturday, March 31, the training wheels of her young life began to wobble.
That was the day she began complaining of pain in her right leg, and despite trying to fight through the pain while just being an active youngster, that pain became too much within three days.
“By Monday, she could no longer run; by Tuesday, climbing the stairs turned into scooting up and down them,” her mother Laura said, “and by Wednesday evening, she completely lost the ability to walk.”
Twenty-four hours later, accompanied by her parents, Madison entered Scotland Memorial Hospital’s emergency room for X-rays — and things went from bad to worse.
“Expecting to hear that Madison had a broken bone, the news we received turned that day into the worst day of our lives,” Laura said. “The X-ray revealed that our precious 5-year old had a ‘soft spot’ on her right femur, which typically means a tumor is present.”
It would be 14 days before Madison returned home.
Madison was taken immediately to Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, where she underwent CT scans, an MRI, an ECHO, a PET scan, and numerous other tests to determine exactly what was inside her bone. Shortly after, the doctors sat down with the family to discuss the symptoms, medications and side-effects of chemotherapy.
The diagnosis was cancer — specifically osteosarcoma, which is a solid tumor found within the bone. It was taking up about 5 centimeters of the right femur, which equates to about three-fourths of Madison’s young bone.
Within two days, Madison began an aggressive chemotherapy regiment. Within three weeks, she was able to walk again.
“I watched my daughter take her first steps again, and it was even better than the first time,” her mother said.
It didn’t take long for Madison to start making friends at the hospital, which helped her begin the recovery process.
“(She) began to understand that she was not the only one dealing with a disease that put her life on hold,” Laura said. “She has always been a very empathetic child and loves bringing happiness to others.”
An idea is born
Within the first several days at the hospital, Madison had surgery to install a port in her chest just above her heart — a kind of “button” that allows the doctors to deliver medication faster to her body.
But Madison’s child life coach suggested that Madison work on a craft before the surgery as a way to calm her, and she chose to work with beads.
She began making necklaces and bracelets for the nurses, and then had an idea to make them for the patients. But along the way, Madison and her mom talked about how jewelry might not be for everyone.
“She wanted people to look at the beads and be reminded that there is someone praying for them and hoping that they get better,” Laura said.
And Madison’s Hope Ropes resulted.
“Madison decided that keychains are the best way to get her message of hope out to the community,” Laura explained, “because each time they reach for their keys they will feel their ‘Hope Rope’ and be reminded of her message.”
Initially, Madison was interested only in making the “Hope Ropes” with a goal to give them to everyone who wanted them. But once she began to see how cancer had affected her own community, she thought that by selling her “Hope Ropes” to others, she could raise money to help other families here in Scotland County and surrounding areas.
“For Madison, it’s not how much money her ‘Hope Ropes’ can raise, but about bringing hope to those who have lost hope or who are struggling day to day with fear, doubt and worry about what tomorrow might bring,” Laura said.
‘Hope Ropes’ take off
Nothing could have prepared Madison for the kind of response her “Hope Ropes” have had.
“From day one, the people of Scotland County, our friends and family have made this entire journey something that we could endure,” Laura said. “(And) when we shared her idea about making Hope Ropes, the response was overwhelming.”
Laura said there have been numerous trips to the craft stores looking for beads — and they have even had to rely on help from family in other parts of North Carolina to search for beads. There have also been nonprofit foundations that have donated beads to Madison’s efforts.
For the recent Scotland County Relay For Life event, Madison put together nearly 100 “Hope Ropes” to sell, and almost every single one was purchased.
“That was money Madison was able to give right back to the researches who have helped to save her life,” Laura said.
Now, seven months into her recovery, Madison continues to create her “Hope Ropes” as a means of being therapeutic as her young body recuperates.
“When it all started, we were worried about it being overwhelming for Madison, because she likes to have a part of making each and every ‘Hope Rope,’” Laura said. “Seeing how successful the ‘Hope Ropes’ has been has been awesome, but seeing how excited Madison gets when someone shows her their own ‘Hope Rope’ on their keychain or work badge is why we continue to do it.”
Madison also continues to give other patients at Levine Children’s Hospital free of charge — her way of spreading hope and happiness to others fighting the same battle she is.
“When she walks through the halls of the hospital with her chemo line in tow, and she sees a ‘Hope Rope’ hanging from another patient’s IV pole, the smile I get to see is worth every minute she puts into making them,” Laura said.
And the boost to Madison’s own recovery effort has been immense.
“Madison makes most of the ‘Hope Ropes’ while she is at the hospital undergoing treatments,” Laura said. “This distraction takes her mind off of the side-effects of chemo, and it gives her something to look forward to each time we get to the hospital. “
Anyone interested in Madison’s handmade “Hope Ropes” can inquire by email at [email protected]
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-506-3023 or [email protected]