Kid Captain Maddy Snow takes her cancer battle to the gridiron

Maddy Snow (center) walks with the ISU team captains to midfield before the coin flip at the Cy-Hawk football game on Saturday.

Ryan Young

As the Cyclones prepared for the annual Cy-Hawk football game against the Hawkeyes, Maddy Snow looked on from her front-row seat.

The 7 year old patiently waited on the sidelines with her family for both teams to take the field. As dozens of players sprinted out of the tunnel, four of them went straight to Maddy, each giving her a hug or high five.

Just a few minutes later, Maddy found herself walking to midfield arm in arm with the team captains.

She was this week’s Kid Captain, and it was time for the coin toss.

“She was just in awe,” said Kelly Snow, Maddy’s father. “She had this huge smile when she came off and had a gallop in her step. It was awesome.”

Before the start of football season, Kelly said he kept getting messages from friends and family who wanted him to enter Maddy into the Kid Captain program. While he wasn’t interested at first, more and more people kept bringing it up, and Kelly eventually warmed to the idea.

The program, which is put on by the Blank Children’s Hospital, selects one child for each ISU home game to take the field with the team captains before kickoff. The captain gets to see the coin toss first hand and gets to spend some time with the players and coaches before the game.

ISU coach Paul Rhoads, who has been able to work with many different kid captains through the years, said it’s evident how important the program is to the children.

“It means a great, great deal,” Rhoads said. “It’s just a time of elation and happiness. A lot of time that’s what those kids need is a little bit of sunshine, a little bit of happiness.”

But Maddy’s journey to midfield started long before the game.

She came down suddenly with a stomach bug last October. Just to be safe, Maddy’s parents took her to the doctor and picked up some basic flu medicine. Within a few short days, Maddy was back to normal.

Problem solved.

That is, until the same symptoms showed up again three days later — and this time, they were worse.

“She started going back down hill again,” Kelly said. “It was like something was lingering, and we couldn’t figure out what it was.”

Maddy’s parents quickly returned to the doctor. After several tests, CT scans revealed a softball-sized tumor in Maddy’s kidney. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 diffused anapestic Wilms’ tumor.

A Wilms’ tumor is a rare kidney cancer that primarily affects children. The cancer generally will affect just one kidney at a time, but can spread in certain situations to other parts of the body.

In their initial tests, doctors found that the cancer had spread to Maddy’s lungs, so they decided to remove her right kidney to stop the spread.

They immediately started radiation treatments and moved on to chemotherapy a few weeks later. Kelly said the chemotherapy treatments, which lasted 41 weeks, were the toughest parts of the entire process.

To this day, it is still the hardest part for him to get over.

“It’s hard to tell a doctor to put this poison in your child because you know that’s what it’s going to take,” Kelly said. “You have to do it. You have to accept that you’re giving your child this poison that’s going to kill everything inside her body. That’s a tough pill to swallow.”

Throughout the process, though, it may have been Maddy’s innocence that truly helped her through the treatments. Kelly said that Maddy would always jump out of bed and go to treatment, simply because she knew it was the only way to make her feel better.

“The best part is kids don’t know what we know,” Kelly said. “They only know that medicine makes you better, and it will make you better tomorrow, but let’s get through today and tomorrow will be tomorrow. Granted, there were days after chemo where she would be wiped out and throwing up for a couple days, but she knew it had to be done.”

But recently, Maddy’s last scans revealed that there is no evidence of any disease in her body. Things are starting to return to normal for Maddy, who started second grade this fall.

And when she walked onto the field last Friday, she was all smiles. But Maddy’s presence affected more than just her and her family.

When quarterback Sam Richardson walked over to introduce himself to Maddy before the game, it was easy to see that he wasn’t focused on the Hawkeyes.

And Rhoads said that this is often the case.

“I don’t know how it can’t [affect the players], especially the captains who get a chance to walk out there,” Rhoads said. “If anybody who is close has any decency in them, just laying eyes on that and watching that process and laying eyes on the family on the sideline and watching their emotions […] it’s just uplifting as all get out.”

For Maddy, this day is one she will remember for a very long time.

“I think she feels it was kind of worth it to be able to get so much,” Kelly said. “She’s not focused on how bad it’s been. It’s such a great distraction, like a reward almost for so much that they go through.”