Maddy Tax’s “new normal” as a sophomore at Watertown-Mayer High School last spring meant getting three of her primary school activities cut down by the pandemic. Hopefully her junior year calculus class in the fall would be just like any other: taking notes at a desk, surrounded by classmates.
Instead she was at the dining room table on a Zoom video call, writing equations with one hand while trying to stay still as the opposite arm received blood transfusions.
Maddy was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on June 18, 2020.
“I already didn’t have golf season at all. We started spring play practices and after two weeks got shut down. I was hoping to go to state for speech and debate again,” Maddy said. “All of that not happening and then going into this made it hard on my mental health without those distractions.”
The first thing she noticed was a slightly painful bump near her throat, but she shrugged it off.
“I thought it was a weird muscle knot,” Maddy Tax said. “Until we got the actual biopsy results, I was convinced it was just that.”
The doctors immediately knew the three lymph nodes they removed were cancerous. It had spread to her lungs, heart and into her neck.
Despite the initial confidence that the lumps were harmless, she always had the thought in the back of her mind that the worst could happen. When that fear was confirmed, Maddy’s family wasted no time entering planning mode.
Maddy and her friends dyed their hair purple – the signature color for lymphoma. | Submitted photo
Maddy’s first round of treatment was set for July 8, two days after her 16th birthday. Add in COVID-19 procedures and she would be preparing for a stay in the hospital even earlier than that. She asked to delay the treatment a few days so she could celebrate her birthday with her closest friends and family — which included everyone dying a bit of their hair purple, the signature color for lymphoma.
Treatment started July 10 in four three-week cycles. This was happening three months into a deadly pandemic; Maddy’s immune system was weaker than ever.
“The first weekend was rough, figuring everything out and going through the side effects of chemo, the nausea and stuff like that,” Tax said. “I ended up in the hospital after each of the four rounds because anytime I got a fever during that next weekend my blood counts were dropping.”
The process was tiring. Appointments came and went.
“It got to the point where she said, ‘I just don’t even want to hear the c-word [cancer/COVID] anymore,’” Maddy’s mom Jenny said.
Golf courses opening last summer helped her cope in between treatments. Maddy would go out and swing on a few holes to get that sense of normalcy back, even for just a little while. When she did have to be in the hospital, her friends would set up Zoom calls for virtual game nights.
Maddy is a regular at Timber Creek Golf Course in Watertown. She made sure to play a few holes in between treatments when courses opened up again last summer. | Submitted photo
“People from all my activities and groups were so supportive and always there,” Maddy said.
Regular scans showed that treatment was working throughout — the cancer was disappearing. In late September she had a routine scan early in the week, and one of her doctors wanted to tell them the news in person; the Taxes had to wait until Friday afternoon to find out the update that she was cancer-free. That was Oct. 2.
“Hearing it at the end, it felt so good,” Maddy said. “I felt on the end of my rope, and it was only a couple months. I couldn’t imagine what people had to go through for years on end with this.”
“Four months was hard. It was a whole change to our life,” Jenny said.
Two months ago Maddy was approached by a Watertown-Mayer graduate who had been diagnosed with leukemia as a young child and is now working with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Maddy was nominated to assemble a team and participate in a fundraiser running from mid-January to Feb. 28.
It was the last thing she wanted to be involved in once she came out on top in her own fight. She said yes anyway.
“I said I’m out, I’m done,” Maddy said. “My theater director asked me one day if I was going to shut the door once it was over. I said I wanted my story to be over and not have to remember everything again.”
Her mother expected the same. “We were thinking, ‘this isn’t who she is,’” Jenny said. “Is she sure she wants to be a part of this?”
Maddy wasn’t the only one who accepted the challenge. With a widespread reach to all of her school activities, it wasn’t too difficult to come up with a roster of supporters.
“Usually teams are like 10, 15 people,” Maddy said. “We have 35.”
Maddy’s team set its fundraising goal at $150,000 — a high number, but she’s already optimistic about the results so far. If her campaign reaches $100,000 donated, she’ll be able to have her name attached to two research grants and be involved with the research on blood cancers. Should the goal be fully met, Maddy gets the chance to go to the east coast and have dinner with scientists and researchers who are actively working on blood cancers.
“Working on this campaign has helped me come to terms with my battle and give me more closure,” Maddy said.
“We certainly learned a lot,” Jenny added. “It’s the number one cancer diagnosis among kids, teens and young adults. No one wants to hear the word ‘cancer’ with their child’s name attached to it at any age. Last summer was not a fun summer. We’re on the upside now.”
If anything, Maddy says, she wants to make sure people don’t have to go through what she went through — and if they are, to make sure it’s easier for them.
“This campaign is not just about Maddy,” Jenny said. “It’s her story behind it, but it’s about everybody else.”
Plans for the fundraiser include a 3-on-3 basketball tournament and a virtual silent auction to help reach the goal of $150,000.
Sports and activities returned at the right time for Maddy. Mock trial competitions have begun. Hopefully the spring play and a golf season will get the green light this spring. She’ll be headed back to school in the coming weeks to see all those people on her team again.
Not just her golf, mock trial, theater or speech teams. Her “I beat cancer and now we’re going to all beat it together” team.
Donations to Maddy’s campaign can be made at tinyurl.com/teamtax2021.
For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the Jan. 22 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.
Follow Jared Martinson on Twitter: @JaredNHR