Minnesota girl, 3, leaves last chemotherapy session as a princess in a horse-drawn carriage
Vada Kay Wiginton has fought stage 5 kidney cancer. Twice.
ROCHESTER, Minn. — When you're a 3-year-old girl and have just finished beating cancer for the second time, a grand exit from the hospital is in order.
For Matthew Wiginton, of Rochester, that meant arranging for his daughter Vada to leave Mayo Clinic Hospital-Saint Marys on Thursday afternoon, Oct. 28, as a princess in a horse-drawn carriage. Vada had just completed her 46th chemotherapy session for the stage 5 kidney cancer she was diagnosed with when she was 20 months old.
The newly crowned princess walked out of the hospital on her own, ringing her "end of chemo" bell in front of a crowd of family, friends and Mayo Clinic employees with her dad and mom, Beth Timm, not far behind.
Coming up the driveway was Cinderella's carriage being pulled by two matching black Percherons.
"Just the look on her face said it all," Matthew said.
Vada's grandparents Mike and Colleen Wiginton were in the crowd, struggling to hold back tears.
"It was very heartwarming," Colleen said. "This is a major, major wonderful day."
"She's had a lot of blessings. She's handled this really well. She's always got a smile on her face and she's always upbeat," said Mike, a 20-year colon cancer survivor himself.
For the past two years, Vada's childhood has revolved around cancer.
At 20 months old, doctors found a Wilms' tumor on each of her kidneys. Chemotherapy for 16 weeks eliminated those tumors and she was in remission for a year. One tumor was discovered on St. Patrick's Day and she began more aggressive chemo.
That discovery also meant she wasn't able to travel outside a 20-mile radius of the clinic, which has become essentially a second home for her. She hasn't been able to interact with anyone outside of her immediate family or at the clinic.
"The only life we've known as a family is go to the doctor," Matthew said. "I had to shave my daughter's head twice. That took a lot out of me as a dad.
"She's done more than any child should have to do. She's so strong and brave, and she does this with the utmost courage, strength and resilience. I mean, it's crazy," he said. "She's a unicorn — just a magical creature."
Next for Vada is a scan on Monday, Nov. 8, to make sure there are no more Wilms' tumors on her kidneys. If so, Vada will begin a schedule of checkups every three months until she's 8.
Matthew knows the family will never be able to fully put her diagnosis behind them.
"When cancer is diagnosed, it's with you and your family for life," he said. "It's always this cloud that hangs over you that you don't know if a relapse is coming."
Matthew and his wife wonder what side effects of the chemo Vada may have in her life. They already know that the possibility of her having a child is slim to none.
But for now, all Matthew wants to focus giving Vada the childhood she hasn't had yet.
If they get a "green light" on Nov. 8, the family plans to start with a trip to Disney World.
"She needs to be a kid. She needs to experience normal things," he said. "What's next is normal."