It was Christmas morning, and Mattie Cole sat on the hardwood floor in the family room, surrounded by presents.
When she finally stood up, she was more sore than before, even though she had experienced pain in her right hip occasionally since the summer when she was treated by a chiropractor, heating pads and medications.
So two weeks ago, after Mattie’s fever spiked, her parents, Jimmy and Jody Cole, took her to Cincinnati Children’s Liberty Campus, where X-rays revealed possible Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that affects about 200 children and young adults every year in the U.S.
That afternoon, they drove to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center where a biopsy confirmed the worst: Mattie Olivia Ann Cole, 16, a sophomore at Madison High School, had cancer.
No one wants to hear the C Word.
“I never would have thought this,” her mother said quietly. “It’s been rough ever since.”
Mattie, sitting across the kitchen table, added: “Overwhelming.”
When asked about having a daughter diagnosed with cancer, Jody said: “The word is ‘Horrible.’”
But this isn’t how the story ends. It’s only the beginning, really.
When news of Mattie’s cancer spread through the Madison community and around the world — thanks to social media — the support left the Coles confused and thankful. It’s the latest example of a community lifting up a family in need. In this case, it’s a family that would struggle to carry the financial burden of such a medical fight. It’s also a family that has been shocked by the response.
Every day, someone drops off food, snacks, cash or clothing. Sometimes all four. On Wednesday, Jody, who owns and operates American Hair Co., a beauty parlor next to her house on Michael Road in Madison Twp., worked for a few hours before she drove Mattie to the hospital.
Most days, she said, she may receive $20 in tips. She received $350 this day.
“In tips,” she said with a smile. “We don’t feel worthy. There has been a complete outpouring of love. I don’t even know how to take this. We are not good receivers. Why do people care about us so much?”
The Cole family has no insurance. Jody said her husband’s insurance policy was $1,267 a month with a $6,000 deductible. The family chose mortgage payments over health insurance.
In less than two weeks, a GoFundMe account has raised $18,000. The chemotherapy treatments Mattie will receive in the next 10 months will cause her to become infertile, her mother said. On Thursday, one of Mattie’s ovaries was harvested and frozen until she decides to start a family. That procedure, which isn’t covered by any insurance, will be paid by the GoFundMe account.
“We feel extremely blessed,” her mother said. “It’s just overwhelming.”
Also last week, bone marrow was removed and Mattie began chemotherapy. In three months, what is left of the cancerous tumor will be surgically removed. Then more months of chemo.
It ain’t easy beating cancer.
Jody remembers what one of the oncologists told her: “Give us 10 months and we’ll give her the rest of her life.”
That brought a smile to her face.
“I can do 10 months,” she said. “They said it was curable, not treatable. Curable.”
Jimmy and Jody Cole find strength from their daughter. Before Mattie was diagnosed with cancer, she told her parents she had a conversation with God and he delivered the news. Mattie looks at cancer as God’s plan.
“She has the best attitude you could ask for,” her mother said. “She’ll say, ‘No crying mom’ even though I cry when she’s not looking. She’s very admirable. I admire her and I’m her mom. I would be a mess it if was me.”
Mattie will receive home instruction the rest of her sophomore year. You’d think Mattie would be bitter, her mind full of questions, her heart with hate.
This girl is different.
“It is what it is,” the teen said. “This is part of my plan. I can’t sit around and be mad about it. You can’t be sad about something like this. There is no reason to be mad at God.”
Her mother has heard those words before. They never get old.
“This little girl has cancer and she has a ton of faith,” her mother said.