Madeline Renee Harrill was born on April 11, 2003. From her earliest moments she exhibited a love for life. She was so perfectly blessed with traits that would serve her well throughout her short life. She was fearless. When she was about 3 ½ years old, she was being picked on by the school bully (we’ll call him Deacon) at her pre-school. After several attempts to address the problem through the proper channels I finally decided to have a boxing lesson with her. After the lesson I reiterated that she couldn’t hit Deacon unless he started an altercation. As I took her to school the next morning she recited the rules of war with me. As I signed her into school she proceeded to announce… “Deacon…where are you….I’m going to punch you in the nose just like my Daddy taught me!!!”
She was observant. On one ill-fated trip to Gatlinburg, I grew frustrated with the traffic and momentarily forgot she was in the back seat. As the explicative slipped off my tongue she simply said, “Daddy, you shouldn’t say &%!@, $%#@ is a bad word, I don’t say $%#@.” She was a quick learner. A couple of weeks later she grew frustrated with a doll that wouldn’t stand as directed. She then used the same explicative as her father and in perfect context. She was patient and kind. I was never very good preparing her hair. After several futile attempts one day to simply pull her hair into a pony-tail she said, “Daddy how about a hair band?” And she was certainly all-girl. She loved Disney World, (might I add she went three times in her short life) her friends, her puppy Lexi, her school, her church, her dance class, her books, her rock star boots, her dresses, her hair bows and princesses. And… she especially loved her Mom and Dad.
Maddie after Cancer
Maddie was initially diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma in early October 2007 after growing severely ill over a previous weekend. A CT scan and subsequent surgery revealed the presence of a softball size mass attached to her bladder. Her treatment protocol included 40 rounds of chemotherapy and over 2 dozen rounds of radiation. During her first day of chemotherapy she met a new friend. Emily Barger and her mom came by with a gift and some words of encouragement. Maddie’s father had attended high school with Emily’s parents but, this was the first day the two girls had met. They would forever be a team.
Many children undergoing cancer treatment fight a constant battle with low blood counts and infections. Maddie seemed to be the lucky one because her journey was not littered with unscheduled hospital visits due to excessively low blood counts and infections. Her chemotherapy treatments typically occurred on Mondays and that was the only thing that would keep her from school and her friends. Her teachers were always startled by her activity on the playground and feared she would get hurt. She celebrated Christmas like most children and was thrilled to receive a new kitchen set in which she could prepare meals for all her dolls, friends, and family. The new year began with 6 weeks in Nashville as she underwent radiation treatment at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. While in Nashville, she met a soldier in the Opry Mills Mall who was waiting on his wife as she was getting her nails manicured. After speaking with Maddie for a few minutes he left the shop to return a few minutes later with a stuffed bear and handwritten note that read “Keep up the fight….never quit fighting…from one soldier to another”. After returning home in February, she resumed her busy social calendar and not-so-secret crush on John Paul. She seemed to struggle to squeeze in treatments as she attended school, church, birthday parties, sleep-overs, spring recitals, vacation bible school, and play dates. As Maddie was rapidly approaching the end of her treatment in the summer of 2008, she and Emily suffered relapses within a few weeks of one another. As Emily was eulogized on television one evening Maddie’s mother struggled to explain Emily’s passing when Maddie said, “Mommy why are you crying? Heaven is a good place.” From the mouths of babes. Sadly, Maddie would relapse just days later and pass away within a couple of weeks.
Maddie’s strength and undying spirit represented a source of strength for the people who were supposed to be supporting her. Friends, family, and even strangers converged on the family as they dealt with Maddie’s illness and passing. These friendships were forever galvanized and lives were changed for the better because of Maddie and the impact her short but meaningful life had on so many. So much of her legacy is represented by these fortified friendships and changed lives.
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