Shoreham infant battles rare cancer

SHOREHAM — Madi Wheeler is only two months old but already engaged in the fight of her life.
The Shoreham infant has been diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, or RMS, a very rare form of cancer of the connective tissues. It can also be found attached to muscle tissue, entwined around the intestines, but most commonly in areas lacking skeletal muscle.
The diagnosis has dealt a blow to Madi and her family, who this week are scheduled to learn more about the arduous medical treatment path the young child will follow in an effort to regain her health. At the same time, the family would gladly receive well wishes from folks as a morale-booster during the coming weeks.
“We’re asking for prayers, well-wishes and good thoughts,” said Gina Clark, Madi’s maternal grandmother and the family’s spokesperson.
“We’re taking it one day at a time right now.”
It was this past July 26 that little Madi came into the world looking just fine except for some little bumps on her backside, according to Clark.
“Initially, (the physicians at Porter Hospital) thought it was just a birthmark,” Clark said.
Wanting to err on the side of caution, the family took Madi to Fletcher Allen Health Care for some testing. Physicians were concerned enough to perform a surgery to remove the bumps, which had also gathered in her rectum area.
“The surgeon had said, ‘They don’t look bad, I think she’ll be OK,” Clark recalled.
Still, a sample of the excised bumps was sent to the Fletcher Allen pathology department for testing.
That testing raised a big red flag.
“They called us last Thursday (Sept. 18) and told us we needed to bring Madi back to Fletcher Allen,” Clark recalled.
And that’s when the family learned the news that every parent dreads hearing. Medical officials confirmed that Madi had cancer — and a particularly problematic kind localized in a very difficult area of her body.
“She is only the second known patient in the world to have (this cancer) where she has it,” Clark said.
“The news was very devastating, at first.”
Since that diagnosis, Madi has undergone a battery of tests, requiring numerous shots and the extraction of bone marrow to make sure the disease hadn’t penetrated her skeletal structure. She has been outfitted with a central intravenous line that will serve as a port for chemotherapy and other fluids that might have to be injected into her body during the coming months.
Madi was able to come home last week while her physicians crafted her treatment plan. It’s a plan that might require her and her family to travel out of state — perhaps to Boston — for care.
Bryana Clark and Anthony Wheeler, Madi’s parents, both have full-time jobs. Bryana is taking some time off while Madi’s treatment plan gets under way. The family is not asking for any help at this point, just prayers and some good wishes. They have created a Facebook site, “Prayers for Madi,” that can be accessed at www.facebook.com/prayersformadi.
Gina Clark said well-wishers are also invited to send cards to Madi at 428 Doolittle Road, Shoreham, VT 05770.
Madi is bravely greeting the fight that lies before her.
“We are encouraging her to eat as much as she can right now, to build up a nice reserve,” Clark said. “She wakes up every day with a smile on her face.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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