GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When you look at Maddie Pagel these days, it is difficult to imagine her at 4 months old, fighting for her life.
"When they said a brain tumor, I was like 'no way, how is she 4 months old and has this?'" Maddie's mother Tracy Pagel says.
She had just had her four-month checkup.
"Then that night I heard excessive vomiting from her room and I went in there and she was like almost having a seizure," Pagel said.
That's when she took Maddie to the hospital. After some tests, doctors discovered a golf ball-size mass in her brain. She was diagnosed with the aggressive form of brain cancer known as choroid plexus carcinoma that had spread to her spine.
Over the next couple years, she had multiple surgeries, 11 rounds of chemotherapy and intense treatments that brought about some progress. Then Maddie and her family received more devastating news: the cancer came back.
"We saw the tumor had grown in size in her brain and had also spread down to the spine," Dr. Giselle Sholler said. She's the Director of Pediatric Oncology Research at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital.
Dr. Sholler suggested an experimental clinical trial: Next Generation Genetic Sequencing.
"We're really trying to understand as much as we can about the patient's tumor using genomic sequencing. So, looking at their DNA and RNA, understanding what mutations happened to cause the cancer, and the RNA, what pathways are driving the cancer to grow and divide and then looking at drugs to target specifically that patient's tumor," Sholler said.
Dr. Albert Cornelius has been working with Maddie for years and appreciates what this genetic sequencing can do for patients.
"We can actually see what's driving some of these unusual pediatric cancers," Cornelius said.
She has been cancer-free for around two years now, started first grade and doctors hope to use genetic sequencing more in the future to help other patients.
For Maddie's family, her mother says they're happy she's still around and a part of their lives.
"She's been through so much; chemo, treatments, and scans and she just bounces right back. She's my miracle child,” she said.