Family Raises Funds to Give Back, Support Childhood Cancer Research
Madison, Wisconsin - Five-year-old Matthew Triplett loves being outside. He plays soccer and swims, and is learning reading and math.
He also knows how to say the word "neuroblastoma," and is starting to understand where he got his cool scar from ... but he's still too young to fully understand the time he spent at American Family Children's Hospital when he was just more than a year old. That's why Matthew's mom, Heather, a third-grade teacher in Harlem, Ill., is teaching Matthew not only how he beat cancer, but also lessons on the importance of giving back.
In August 2010, Heather discovered blood in Matthew's diaper while she was out shopping and brought him to an immediate care clinic in their hometown of Rockton, Ill. Matthew's doctor diagnosed it as a kinked bowel, and performed an enema to correct it. He also wanted to perform a scan to make sure everything was back to normal, and that's when they found a mass. The doctor told the family to pack up and head to the children's hospital immediately.
Heather, at that time pregnant with her second child, says she didn't grasp the gravity of the situation until that moment. "That's when it really hit me," she recalls. "Our life is stopping right now, and we are doing this instead." She and her husband, Jarod, decided to drive to American Family Children's Hospital.
Matthew, whom Heather describes as having been healthy, and already very independent for his age - sleeping in a big boy bed and using his large vocabulary - showed no symptoms and had been acting normal all day.
Reading books and assembling puzzles with Matthew in the play room, "I still kept wondering what we were doing on the oncology floor," Heather says. "'This isn't my life!' I thought. 'We shouldn't be here.'"
The next morning, they received Matthew's diagnosis: neuroblastoma. He had surgery the following day and tests came back clean. He still returns to Madison for follow-up visits, and continues to be cancer-free.
Heather credits the nurses, doctors and staff for helping to make their stay as easy as possible, given the circumstances. "They were the best group of people I've ever met in my entire life."
As a way to say thank you, and help advance the incredible research already happening locally, the Tripletts came up with the idea to organize a fundraiser and celebrate Matthew's first year of recovery. It's grown exponentially since 2011, and to date Matthew's Mission for Hope has raised $54,000 for the Beat Childhood Cancer Research Fund. This year's dinner and silent auction event is scheduled for October 10.
When Matthew is older, Heather wants to bring him and his 4-year-old sister, Emma, back to the hospital to help them understand the gravity of the situation their family faced. "He doesn't fully grasp that there are kids who have neuroblastoma again, and again, who deal with ports and chemo, and can't play soccer and swim," Heather explains. "I want them to understand that."
And, she adds, "I feel the UW will always be a part of our life."
Date Published: 05/12/2015