‘We Don’t Take Anything For Granted:’ Middleville Child’s Triumph Over Cancer Strengthens Family's Bond

Jake Newby

| 6 min read

Middleville, Michigan teen Madison “Maddie” Lockwood chokes up when she thinks about how close she was to the chemotherapy finish line in 2022 when her recovery hit a snag.
“Right at the end, my liver failed after my last chemo,” said Maddie, whose family is covered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM). “I lost all my hair again. And, they thought my cancer might have come back.”
Maddie is a T-cell leukemia survivor. But before her family could officially call her that, her bellringing was delayed a week because her absolute neutrophil count (ANC) count was low. If her ANC didn’t rebound, the Lockwoods were told Maddie would need a bone marrow transplant.
Neutrophils are infection-fighting white blood cells. An ANC of less than 500 puts a person at high-risk of infection. But just as Maddie’s done since the fall of 2019, when she was first diagnosed with leukemia at age 10, she fought, she fought, and she fought.
She didn’t know any better than to fight, noting during her interview with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) that she was too young to remember the brunt of her hospital stay. Maddie is 14 now.
“Miraculously, in a week, my numbers went from 0 to 800,” Maddie said, as she smiled and reflected on her escape from that week-long purgatory of uncertainty.
“It wasn’t the happy ending we were looking for at first, but we got there,” said Kristin Lockwood, Maddie’s mom. “It was a delayed happy ending.”

“It was really scary:” Reflecting on Maddie’s childhood cancer diagnosis

Maddie’s symptoms started in 2019 with a swollen thumb and multiple cases of strep throat. She was also uncharacteristically tired and lethargic. Eventually, blood samples in November of that year led to a complete blood count (CBC) test that revealed leukemia.
“(Our doctor) said cancer in the (emergency room) for the first time and it took my breath away,” Kristin said. “I didn’t really realize what we were in for when we had gotten that phone call.”
Maddie’s dad, Aaron Lockwood, said the days, months and years that followed that phone call were “a living hell.”
Maddie stayed in the hospital for three weeks as her first round of chemo was initiated. That winter was incredibly tough on the Lockwood family, which spent Thanksgiving at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and almost had to stay there for Christmas, too.
“We have another daughter and that was hard on our family to be separated for so long,” Kristin said.
Maddie underwent treatment for a little more than two full years before ringing that bell at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in April 2022. Two years prior, in April 2020, Maddie went into remission. That’s obviously news any family wants to hear, but the remission period was a grind for Maddie, who remembers being far from full strength when going back to school right as the pandemic started.
Maddie Lockwood
Throughout the 2.5-yearbattle, Kristin, Aaron and the girls leaned on each other more than ever for support after being rocked by something that felt so random.
“I don’t know if I stopped crying for three weeks, but I can remember Aaron wrapping me up in that very first day at the hospital, and (Maddie’s) team telling us, ‘We got this, we’re going to get through this,’” Kristin recalled. “That was my moment of, ‘OK, we’re going to make it through. We’ll figure it all out. We kind of all rallied around Maddie … it was a struggle, but we’re a team.”
That team was tested repeatedly, enduring hardship after hardship within the family. Aaron works in health care, so while Maddie was in the thick of her treatment in early 2020, Aaron was given the guidance that most health care workers were given during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was to quarantine from family members. He did so in his parents’ camper, in the family’s driveway, for four straight months. It was a true team effort.
“I work in health care and we have an immunocompromised child with an ANC of zero who has no way to fight infection,” he recalled. “Per our oncologist, the best way to combat everything was to isolate. So, for four months I was eating dinner in the driveway while they’re on the porch, talking through windows, and watching my kid go through hell living in a camper.”
Maddie Lockwood, far right, and some friends celebrate Maddie's cancer-free diagnosis by making and displaying homemade posters.
When they couldn’t count on much outside of the strength they provided each other, Kristin said the family never lost sleep over their health insurance coverage.
“I feel like we didn’t have any worries,” Kristin said of BCBSM. “Everything was just taken care of, I didn’t have to worry about anything unexpected. That was the least of my concerns.”

Maddie’s resiliency: The challenges she overcame and how she feels today

Maddie’s bone density was so low that she broke a bone each year between 2020 and 2022.She wasn’t flying out of trees or flipping on trampolines, either. These injuries occurred during relatively low-impact accidents around the house, like falling out of a chair or tripping over the family dog. 
She can laugh when she looks back at those incidents now, but for a long stretch of time, Maddie couldn’t catch a break with side effects from treatment. She seemed to get hit with everything up and down the list, from mouth sores, to weight loss to muscle atrophy. 
“That was the hard part, the poor kid experienced one thing after another,” Kristin said. “For her it was like, ‘Why me, why does this keep happening?’ Through no fault of her own.”
Maddie Lockwood
Maddie glows when chatting about her energy and overall health now compared to even a year ago during remission. As a young child she liked to dance and horseback ride competitively, two sources of joy she had to go without while fighting leukemia. She’s back to doing those activities, and neither she nor her family are taking those moments for granted.
“It’s been amazing,” Aaron said. “We got to watch her do her first horseback riding lesson two weeks ago and to say that I had tears in my eyes is an understatement. Watching her do what she loves and seeing the smile on her face when she placed and got her first ribbon. To dance again, to play with her friends, to ride a bike – all the things we take for granted. Walking around the block. To feel normal again – or whatever you want to call normal – is a blessing. My wife and my kids and I definitely have a stronger bond and a different outlook on life. We don’t take anything for granted.” 
Kristin said Maddie’s growth and maturity since the day she was diagnosed with leukemia has amazed her, as well. Childhood cancer is categorically cruel, forcing kids to become brave beyond their age. The Lockwoods said that’s been true of Maddie, who not only hurdled over every obstacle hurled her way but did so with a smile on her face.
“I think especially for the person going through it, you have to be positive,” Maddie said. “That’s what helped me. Was to be positive.”
Photo credit: Kristin and Aaron Lockwood
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