By Johnny Jackson
Students and staff at Ola Elementary School are wearing purple and gold today in support of a cheerful 7-year-old they call Maddie.
The school community has been engaged, for the past few weeks, in efforts to help support second-grader, Madeline "Maddie" Briscoe, who was recently diagnosed with the cancer known as neuroblastoma.
"It's a new reality," said Maddie's father, Darren Briscoe. "She's been ill since Labor Day. She had back pain all that weekend. So, we admitted her into the hospital on Labor Day."
Briscoe said his baby girl was admitted back into the hospital with a slight fever, during a recent routine checkup. He said she is under observation at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.
The father said he has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of community support for his family -- his wife, Shelly; their daughter, Maddie, and son, Jacob, 8.
"The support that has come out of the community has been more than we could ever imagine," Briscoe said. "That's what's made it possible for us to be able to do this ... to deal with the cancer, to survive it, and to get through it.
"It's hard for Shelly and I to express how much we appreciate the support," he continued. "Everything that's come our way, we appreciate it."
Briscoe said doctors diagnosed an advanced stage of the cancer that develops from nerve tissue, when they noticed tumors in her abdomen, chest, and spine. "Apparently, she had the cancer cells possibly her whole life," he said. "But she didn't have symptoms until that weekend. We never knew that she had cancer."
Maddie has already endured two rounds of chemotherapy, and is expected to go through four more rounds over the next several months. Her father said she will likely have two or more surgeries, radiation treatment, and at least one stem cell transplant as she moves toward the recovery process.
"We're also very, very early in her treatment," said Briscoe, adding that his daughter has remained happy, despite her trying circumstances. "She's the eye of the hurricane," he explained. "She's the calm when everybody else is flying around her."
Briscoe said his youngest child, at first apprehensive about cutting her hair off, has embraced the opportunity to explore her artistic talents by decorating her scalp with colorful, temporary tattoos.
"She loves arts and crafts, and drawing, and [the Nickelodeon television series] 'iCarly,'" he said. "She also likes to play softball."
This past summer, Maddie played as first baseman for the Ola Firestorm, a 6-and-under softball team in the Ola Softball League at Sandy Ridge Park in east McDonough. "She's an awesome kid, and it's an awesome family," said Brook Schreiner, Maddie's former assistant softball coach.
Schreiner said he and others are in the process of organizing various fund-raisers for the Briscoe family, to help pay medical expenses for Maddie's treatment. She pointed to a Facebook Page created in support of Maddie and her family, called "Prayers For Maddie."
Maddie's supporters at Ola Elementary School are wishing the best for the youngster they describe as friendly and cheerful. "She comes in here with a smile on her face, from ear-to-ear, which amazes me," said Laurie Watkins, Ola's front office secretary. "She's a sweet little girl. The community outreach has been great -- just overwhelming."
Truett's Grill in McDonough plans to take part in the cause on Saturday, according to Leah Register, a store supervisor at the restaurant. The eatery -- located at 785 Jonesboro Road in McDonough -- will donate 10 percent of customers' sales to the cause, from noon until 2 p.m., when customers turn in their receipts, Register said.
The Locust Grove Recreation Association will host a charity baseball and softball tournament, called Team Maddie, in which all proceeds will be donated to Maddie's medical expenses. Kenny Lee, parks liaison for the Henry County Parks and Recreation Department, will be an organizer and director for the upcoming charity tournament. He said it will be held Nov. 5-7, at Warren Holder Park, 301 Club Drive in Locust Grove.
Lee said the tournament is for age groups, between 6 and 14. Tickets will be available at the gate for $5 per person, per day. To participate as a team, there must be nine players to each team paying a entry fee of $125.
Maddie's father said he has been invited to some of the fund-raising events in the works, but has had to delay commitments in order to see about his daughter and family. "You never know how long you've got, hug your kids, and tell them you love them every day," said Briscoe. "Hug them now, and hug them often. Every day is precious."