When her alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. one Saturday in March, Madison Smith groggily got into her bathing suit and hopped in the car with her parents to head to her championship swim meet. The Good Counsel freshman aided the Falcons in placing first in their heat in the relay event.
The following Monday, Smith, whose “main sport” is golf and who has been playing since she was 7, tried out for the golf team and made varsity. She became the youngest player on the team and one of just two girls to try out.
More good news preceded that: Smith had completed the last of her chemotherapy treatments just days before those athletic accomplishments.
The Initial Days
Smith will compete with the Falcons at the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship Monday at Northwest Park in Silver Spring. Sports, and the community at her school, have boosted Smith’s outlook during otherwise difficult circumstances — and she has continued to thrive in them even as health issues have added a degree of difficulty.
During a trip to Maui in August 2021, Madison started experiencing extreme stomach pain and nausea. While she was initially diagnosed as being infected with E. coli and Salmonella — bacteria consistent with food poisoning — her symptoms persisted after taking medication, prompting her mother to suspect worse. When doctors performed an X-ray, they found a stricture — a narrowing of the intestinal tract — and airlifted her to a hospital in Honolulu that was equipped to perform surgery.
When pediatric surgeon Sidney Johnson was finished, he pulled Molly and James Smith out of the recovery room to discuss the results. In the hospital’s chapel, Johnson told them he had removed 23 swollen lymph nodes and a foot of Madison’s colon, and a biopsy came back positive for both celiac disease and cancer. Molly and James were stunned to learn about their otherwise healthy daughter’s diagnosis.
“We had not even been contemplating that because she’s so young and it’s so rare for her age group,” James said. “It just doesn’t happen, so we weren’t prepared for that.”
Back home in Rockville, Madison was formally diagnosed with Stage 3 colorectal cancer by oncologist AuRang Kim at Children’s National Hospital. According to the National Cancer Institute, fewer than 100 children in the United States are diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year.
“She hit literally a home run,” James said. “It was E. coli, Salmonella, Celiac and cancer.”
A New Beginning
Starting chemo on Sept. 14, 2021, just two weeks after her first day of high school, Madison didn’t know what to expect. She would have to miss four days every other week for chemotherapy treatments, and she would have to navigate the usual stresses of starting at a new school.
Through a port that was surgically implanted in her body, Madison received medicine for 46 hours that would leave her nauseous and fatigued for the next few days. She was able to do most of her treatments at home and recover on her living room couch cuddled up with her pandemic puppy, Wrigley.
Playing at the home of the Masters has always been a goal of Madison’s, so much so that when she was asked what she wanted to do as part of the Make-A-Wish foundation, her answer was easy — to play Augusta National and spend a few nights in the Crow’s Nest, where amateur golfers stay during the Masters.
“If you could say ‘Yeah I got to play Augusta when I was 14,’ people would be like, ‘Huh?’ ” Madison said.
That wish has not yet been granted, but Madison is confident that she will reach her chosen destination at some point, whether it’s through the Drive, Chip & Putt competition or Make-A-Wish.
“She’s convinced she’s gonna get to Augusta,” James said, “one way or another.”