Staff News

After the despair of cancer, a wish come true

June 04, 2015 by Cindy O'Dell
Madison Keith and Bethany Hamilton

Madison Keith and Bethany Hamilton

It’s hard to imagine anything positive coming out of having your child diagnosed with cancer, much less having it recur two years later.

But somehow the Make-A-Wish Foundation makes that possible, or at least it did for Kevin Keith and his family.

Keith’s daughter Madison was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma in 2012 when she was 10 years old. The rare cancer had developed as a mass in her abdomen, eventually pushing through her ribs. Concern over complaints about a “side ache” grew serious when a collision with a young cousin had her howling in pain. A trip to urgent care turned into an Last day of Chemoappointment with a surgeon and in a matter of weeks, Madison had the mass removed followed by six months of chemotherapy.

Keith, a senior academic advisor in Riverside, was directing the Temecula campus at the time, juggling once-every-three-week hospital stays in Fontana with his wife and caring for their 4-year-old daughter Caitlin. Two years later, the cancer was back.

“It was harder the second time. Especially after the one-year scan when we thought, ‘we’re almost there, we’ll make it,’” said Keith.  A second surgery was followed by a medication that turned Madison’s hair gray and caused extreme pain, all while Madison was trying to be a normal seventh-grader.

A hero to admire

Even before her life took a turn, Madison had admired Bethany Hamilton, the surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack and was the focus of the movie “Soul Surfer.”

“When Madison was first diagnosed, I really encouraged her to look up to her (Hamilton) and how she took a devastating event in her life and turned it into a great thing,” said Keith.

About Make-A-Wish
Madison Keith’s wish was granted through the combined efforts of  Make-A-Wish Orange County/Inland Empire and Make-A-Wish Hawaii
So when Make-A-Wish, which grants wishes to children with life-threatening (but not necessarily terminal) medical conditions, contacted them, Keith already had a pretty good idea what would top Madison’s wish list.

“Her wish was to surf with Bethany Hamilton.”

As it turns out, Hamilton is at the top of a lot of lists. Wishes to surf with Bethany Hamilton are among the most popular requested wishes received by the Hawaii chapter, which inspired the launch of the Make-A-Wish Hawaii Surf Camp with Bethany Hamilton, held annually. In January of this year, the Keith family joined 10 other families at the 2015 camp.

Kevin Keith with his daughters Caitlin and Madison in Kauai

Kevin Keith with his daughters Caitlin and Madison in Kauai

“The wishes they provide kids are just amazing. They flew us to Kauai. Each family had their own beach house in Hanalei,” said Keith. While Madison surfed with Hamilton and had Kalani Vierra, a world champion tandem surfer, as her personal surf coach, the entire family got to enjoy luaus, canoeing and an inner tube adventure through the canals of the sugar plantations.

It was a trip with one highlight after another, including watching the movie “Soul Surfer” with the Hamilton family and getting a chance to talk about the making of the movie with Hamilton’s brother Noah and a one-on-one session between Madison and Hamilton.

“Madison, even when going through all the stuff we did, she’s always been a smiler. And man, she just smiled. Really both of my kids’ faces and my wife’s face, my face, we were all just beaming the whole time,” said Keith.

The trip, which Keith says he never could have afforded on his own, also included an outpouring of generosity from restaurants and shops in Kauai. “It was a constant blessing.”

A California meeting

“We found out in April that Bethany was going to be in Huntington Beach at a store near a beach we like to go to. Madison’s birthday was April 2 and her wish was to see Hamilton again. “I want to see her and tell her thank you and give her a gift,” Madison told her dad.

Madison Keith

Madison Keith

They got word to Hamilton through her brother Noah who had added Keith as a Facebook friend. Once again, Hamilton made time to see Madison and remembered her by name. Madison was delighted to be able to give Hamilton an additional gift – a present for Hamilton’s baby due this month.

Madison is also paying it forward, much as Hamilton has. She recently spoke in front of a large Relay for Life crowd about her experiences. “It’s given us an opportunity to reach out to people,” said Keith.

About synovial sarcoma
Sarcoma is a cancer of connective tissues, such as nerves muscles and bones. Synovial sarcoma is a rare soft-tissue sarcoma that is more common among teenagers and young adults. The tumors are fast-growing but often go unnoticed until bones are invaded, causing pain.
“One of the things I personally came to realize is that it’s OK not to be OK. Many people believe that there’s a personal life and a professional life and they’re not supposed to mix. But it’s going to come across. You have to let your coworkers know when you’re not have a great day. You don’t have to put on a fake smile,” said Keith, who relied on those around him at Brandman to understand.

The Keith family’s smiles are all genuine these days and not just when they’re remembering the generosity of Make-A-Wish. Two weeks ago, Madison’s CT scan showed her cancer free.

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