Hailey Maddox, a senior at North Medford High School, plans to go to college after she graduates this June. She has her heart set on becoming a pediatric oncology nurse who specializes in administering chemotherapy infusions.
She also has dreams of one day marrying and having children.
Bright, light-hearted, outgoing and funny, the nearly-18-year-old’s indomitable spirit and contagious smile belie the fact that she’s in the midst of a three-year-battle with Stage 4 Myofibroblastic Sarcoma.
A classmate, Adrian Chavez, has aspirations of becoming an art teacher. His goal is to mentor young people. He likes the idea of improving lives through art.
Chavez’s passion for art and the belief in “the power of community” has already had a profound impact on Maddox’s life.
Chavez’s senior project was a two-day art show held March 10-11 at 30 North, a downtown Medford art gallery. He managed to bring together dozens of artists, ages 15 to 80 years old, and showcase an eclectic collection of more than 40 pieces of art.
The star of the show was Maddox. And much to her surprise, Chavez had organized the show as a benefit for her.
“It was supposed to be a secret,” Maddox says. “But the word got out, and I almost started to cry.”
“It was so amazing,” she says.
Chavez’s generosity was astonishing given the fact that although they’d known each other since middle school, it wasn’t until this year that the two seniors’ friendship gelled. And during conversations in their economics class, Chavez learned the full scope of Maddox’s plight.
Maddox, who will turn 18 April 30, decided when she was 15 to have her eggs harvested in an effort to preserve her fertility before beginning chemotherapy and radiation. Her oncologist, Dr. Ellen Plummer, recommended the procedure as a precaution.
To date, Maddox is the youngest patient at Oregon Reproductive Medicine in Portland. She learned to inject herself with hormones, and the time-consuming, painful process paid off. A dozen of the 14 eggs harvested are viable.
Maddox and her family are now facing a $4,000 bill to keep the eggs stored. Payment is due in April. Thereafter, Maddox says, she will have to pay $360 a year to keep the eggs stored and ready for whenever she begins her journey to motherhood. Harvesting and storing eggs is not covered by insurance.
Maddox says that other medical expenses, including treatments, surgeries, hospital stays and trips to and from Portland, are also a priority.
The aim of the art show, titled Progress, was to help raise those funds. As of Friday, nearly $600 had been collected with more donations flowing in, Chavez said.
Chavez, who serves on the Medford Arts Commission, teaches art classes to at-risk youth and manages the Life Art Studio and Cultural Center, says he was “amazed” by the reception the show and Maddox’s story received.
Nearly 400 attended opening night, and nearly that number “were mingling and talking about the art and Hailey,” the second night, Chavez says.
“I knew I’d accomplished my goal of bringing the community together,” the 18-year-old says. “It was a good feeling to see the support of both the art and Hailey.”
Before her diagnosis Jan. 8, 2014, Maddox was active in sports. She played volleyball in middle school and was on the freshman volleyball team at North Medford when she began having difficulties with squats during practices and games. Over a period of time, her right knee became lumpy and bumpy.
During a visit to the emergency room with her mother, Maddox pointed out her knee to the physician. After a MRI revealed “scar tissue,” the knee was drained. She endured a "wait-and-see” period of several months before another biopsy was done and the suspicion of cancer confirmed.
Stage 4 Myofibroblastic Sarcoma is a soft-tissue cancer, rare among children and adolescents. The cancer began in her right knee, in the form of a tumor intertwined in the main muscle.
The cancer eventually spread into Maddox’s lungs and into her lymphatic system.
“An X-ray showed polka dots of cancer in my lungs,” she says. “We were told that it’s unusual for this type of cancer to metastasize.”
The student body at North Medford adopted her as a Sparrow in November 2014 to help the family with medical expenses.
Unfortunately, traditional chemotherapy treatment did not work, and Maddox endured five surgeries to remove the cancer from her knee and lungs.
Fortunately, however, the prediction that her right leg would have to be amputated above the knee did not come true.
In March 2015, Maddox began another round of chemotherapy. Every two weeks, she was admitted at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center to endure three days of infusions.
It was then she decided she wanted to become a pediatric oncology nurse.
“I always knew I wanted to get into the medical field,” she says. “I just wasn’t sure exactly how.”
When she experienced the care with which the nurses administered the drugs, she knew she wanted to “connect on that same personal level” with children enduring what she had endured.
The accompanying nausea, fatigue and other ailments forced Maddox to drop out her sophomore year and home-school.
It was hard, she says, to “lose all my hair. I had wanted to grow it long and never cut it.”
Of the baldness, she says, “yes, I was called ‘cue-ball’ … that’s exactly what I looked like.”
Maddox re-entered North Medford as a junior in the fall of 2015 and played “catch-up,” she says. She worked hard enough to earn a spot on the honor roll even while undergoing additional radiation and therapies.
One round of radiation was to attack the cancer cells “that had nestled near my heart,” she reflects.
During her junior year, she was happy to do community-service projects for another Sparrow that North Medford had adopted. A little girl named Danni who is “now 5 or 6 years old.”
“It ends up we met when we both were undergoing chemo,” she says.
Today, Maddox has no outward symptoms and is generally not in pain.
“I feel pretty normal,” she says.
She still has some lumps in her groin — “they haven’t grown, but they haven’t shrunk,” she says. And the tumor has grown back in the original spot in her knee.
“It’s nonaggressive,” she says of the cancer. “So, I guess that’s a good prognosis. It is being watched closely.”
In August, she made the decision to stop chemotherapy. After she’s 18 and after graduation, she will weigh her options.
As she looks toward graduation, she maintains a positive outlook and is grateful for friends like Chavez.
“A lot of people focus a lot on themselves but, really, there are people out there who are going through worse than I am.”
A gofundme account has been set up to help with Maddox's medical bills at www.gofundme.com/mvc.php?route=category&term=Hailey%20Maddox. As of Monday, the account had raised $1,250.
— Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at firstname.lastname@example.org.