Closer to Free Ride

2-Year-Old Fights Leukemia, Mom Readies for Closer to Free Ride

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A toddler in a swing is one of life’s simplest moments of joy and Maddie Bouchard is soaking it in because, for this 2-year-old, the last six months have been tough.

“For her type of leukemia, the first month was intense,” said Hunter Bouchard, Maddie’s mom.

The toddler was diagnosed in November when a nagging feeling led Maddie to an emergency room visit in Guilford, followed by a trip to Yale New Haven Hospital.

“Yeah, we found out on Saturday. And then by Sunday morning, bright and early, she was in the operating room for a port, and her first lumbar puncture, and bone marrow biopsy, and chemo,” Hunter said.

That day was followed by a month of steroids, more procedures and more chemo. And finally, there was a sign that things were getting better: Maddie was cancer-free in December.

“We’re still in what's called frontline therapy, which is about eight months more of a little bit less intense treatment,” said Hunter, who described several phases of Maddie’s treatment. “So, at some point, she was getting chemo every day. And sometimes it's once a week, and sometimes it's every 10 days. So, right now, she's every 10 days.”

The process has brought the family closer together and helped make Maddie a fighter.

“She's always been tough,” said dad Mike Bouchard. “And a lot of the times, I don't even think she knows what's going on. She has her friends at the hospital, she goes and sees nurse Donna and she gets band aids, which she likes. She loves getting band aids.”

And there’s another Smilow Cancer Hospital nurse that’s been right at her side: her mom. Hunter began her nursing career in oncology and has worked at Smilow Cancer Hospital in New Haven and Guilford.

“I'm excited to go back in the fall when Maddie’s treatments are a little less intense,” Hunter said. “I think that this maybe would have been an opportunity for someone to step back from their work. But I think working and taking care of people is something important to me.”

Also on the calendar this fall is the Closer to Free Ride on Sept. 10, and it will be Hunter’s first time out.

“I remember the first time I saw the ride happening,” said Hunter, who was working in the labor and delivery department at the time. “I was taking care of a patient inside on the fourth floor and could still see outside, and I could see everyone riding and cheering, and I kept saying to myself every year, ‘oh I need to sign up for the ride.’”

She will be on Team Maddie’s Magic Makers with about 20 friends, family and co-workers in support of Maddie and the other patients.

“I think no matter what position you're in, this can be a tough diagnosis for anyone, whether you have a large support system, whether you have friends and family around,” Hunter said. “So, I think having all the different supports that Smilow offers and having those readily available, and those things being able to be funded through a ride like this, for trials for direct patient care, I think it means a lot.”

She says having 100% of the funds go to patient care, clinical trials and other support is so important to treatment and recovery. She’ll be thinking about them on her 40-mile ride.

“I think it's really special to see how many survivors ride, but also how many people come out to support everyone,” Hunter said.

And Mike has the honor of being there, leading the support team at the finish line, including Maddie and big brother Gordie.

“I think she and many people will be in tears,” Mike said. “I don't know. You know, you'll know when you feel it, but it's going to be exciting. That'll be great.”

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