Even Ordinary Is Extraordinary

By John Kelly
Thursday, January 4, 2007

Today my assistant, Julia Feldmeier, tells the story of how Children's Hospital was able to dry the eyes of a girl from Northwest.

It all started with a single tear. It was puzzling, the way that tear cascaded downMaqueis Riddick's cheek in one continuous, watery trickle. It wasn't a tear of sadness or joy -- those would come later, after the Riddicks learned that Maqueis, then 12, had a tumor in the muscles above her right eye.

The tumor, called a rhabdomyosarcoma, is as difficult to fathom as it is to pronounce.Genice, Maqueis's mom, says she still can't understand where that tumor came from, can't understand why those muscle cells decided to go astray. And even though Maqueis's prognosis is good -- after a year of chemotherapy and radiation, the tumor appears to be gone -- the thought of what might have happened, and what could happen still, is enough to keep her mom unsettled.

Genice points to her stomach: "That little pit right here, it's always going to be right here, that I know she has it. Anything could recur, and it could take us right back. To me, this will never be over."

Dr.Anne Angiolillo, a doctor in Children's division of hematology and oncology, is optimistic about Maqueis's recovery. They caught the cancer before it had a chance to spread, and the location of the tumor made it highly responsive to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Maqueis still gets scans every three months to make sure the tumor stays away, but for the most part, there's little left to do regarding her physical recovery.

Her emotional recovery may take longer. Maqueis, now 14, is nothing if not stoic. When that single tear gave way to a burgeoning growth over her eye -- a bulge that ultimately grew to the size of an egg, Genice says -- she never once said that it hurt. Throughout her year of treatment, when Maqueis came in for ongoing weekly therapy and five weeks of daily radiation, "she was a real trouper," said Dr. Angiolillo. "She never complained."

But cancer is hard at any age, much less when you're a kid, and there were occasional moments when Genice would run an errand to the cafeteria and return to find her youngest daughter wiping away tears, the real kind.

"I'd be like, 'Oh, you were just thinking about things,' " Genice recalls. "She's so reserved, but I told her I'm her mom and her friend."

At a recent follow-up appointment at Children's, waiting outside the hematology wing, Genice gently teases her daughter about her clothes (she'd decorated her jeans with heart-shaped doodles in black marker) and her penchant for talking and giggling on the phone. In response, Maqueis unleashes a slow smile and a soft giggle.

Both Genice and Maqueis's doctors are glad to see those smiles. She lost her hair in the first round of chemotherapy and subsequently wore a bandanna and sunglasses to cover up during the first few months of treatment.

So there's a bigger sense of recovery at hand, one hinged on regaining a feeling of normalcy. It's happening, bit by bit.

Says Dr. Angiolillo: "To see the patient progress and this tumor melting away, and to see her take her sunglasses off and see how beautiful she is, it's just really rewarding."

A Half-Million by Next Week?

A flurry of donations has raised our total so far for Children's Hospital to$208,835.26. That's a wonderful amount, but short of the$500,000we need by Jan. 19. Remember, all gifts pay the hospital bills of poor children. All gifts are tax deductible. And all are greatly appreciated. Whether it's $20, $50 or $500, please consider giving today.

To donate, make a check or money order payable to "Children's Hospital" andmail itto Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390.

Todonate onlineusing a credit card, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/childrenshospital.

To contributeby phoneusing Visa or MasterCard, call 202-334-5100.

Join John Kelly tomorrow at 1 p.m. for his weekly online chat:http://www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline

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