It looked like time might be running out for Chip Madren.
One moment he was a normal 13-year-old, and the next, doctors were telling his parents a deadly cancer was spreading in his brain.
Lea and Ken Madren turned to their faith that day in 2010. They asked for prayers.
Within hours of making their request, many were making petitions on the Dunwoody’s teen’s behalf. Within weeks, the petitioners swelled to 400, then a thousand on a social site the family started. Chip’s Nation, as the Madrens called them, would inspire a book and the Madrens would launch a non-profit to help other pediatric cancer patients from metro Atlanta.
Lea Madren said the family could feel the prayers undergirding them — particularly those from Scott Dockter, whom they call “our little angel.”
Dockter, a Dunwoody father of four had never been in the habit of asking God for anything. At 45, he’d led a rather charmed life.
He was a successful businessman, happily married to his wife of 25 years. Their children were healthy.
But his neighbor’s boy, Chip, wasn’t. Chip needed his prayers.
It was the one thing given his busy schedule that Dockter knew he could do.
And so wherever he traveled - from St. Louis to New York and New England - Dockter ducked into churches, and synagogues and temples to pray.
“Lord, please give Chip a day with no pain,” he prayed.
“Let him get through the day without vomiting.”
“Please dispel the evil from his body.”
Life changed in an instant
Chip was in his first week of seventh grade when his life changed.
On the morning of August 17, 2010, he felt lethargic and complained of blurred vision. Maybe the wake-boarding crash he’d had the week before had left him with a slight concussion.
Lea and Ken Madren picked him up from school to see the family’s pediatrician.
“Our lives went from zero to 60 in about 2.2 seconds,” Chip would say later.
Doctors told the Madrens their boy had Metastatic Anaplastic Medulloblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer.
Lea Madren grabbed the trash can and threw up.
“It was the nightmare that every parent has,” she recalled.
Twelve hours later, Chip was in surgery.
On August 20, while doctors worked to remove a tumor from Chip’s brain’s stem, the Madrens started a CaringBridge, a protected social network site to keep friends and family informed.
“Please pray for my child,” Ken Madren wrote.
All his life, Dockter had been taught that prayer changed things.
Like the Madrens, Dockter was a devout Catholic. But as much as he believed in the power of prayer, he was “uncomfortable with overt religion.”
To him religion, like prayer, was a private matter.
But time seemed to be running out for Chip. The surgery had left him unable to speak. He could barely see and couldn’t walk.
Dockter found himself not only praying but talking more about his faith, brushing away any notion that death might come.
“I’d been praying a long long time, but it was more robotic,” Dockter said. “I could see how sad the family was, so it made me think about it a little more.”
Took Chip with him in prayer
As president and CEO of PBD Worldwide, a logistics and distribution company based in Alpharetta, Dockter traveled extensively. Now he intended to take Chip with him - in prayer.
“Scott took it to a new level,” Lea Madren said.
Whether traveling for business or on family vacation, Dockter began visiting churches of various denominations, Catholic, African Methodist, some Presbyterian.
At each stop, he lit a candle and prayed.
Then Dockter would write Chip a short note about each church, its history and his petition to God. He could feel his faith grow.
“As I kept going to these churches, it would get stronger and stronger,” Dockter said.
Chip began getting stronger, too.
Lea Madren learned that cancer is the leading cause of death by disease among U.S. children from birth to age 15. Each year, more than 10,000 new cases of childhood cancer are diagnosed — approximately 46 children and adolescents every day.
“Once you know those numbers, you can’t turn your head away,” she said.
A year ago, the family learned Chip’s cancer was in remission.
In January, the Madrens started Chip’s Nation Pediatric Cancer Foundation to, among other things, help fund pediatric cancer research at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
“We’ve been blessed in so many ways through this journey,” Lea Madren said. “Of course, I wish it would go away but it can’t so you have to look at the good parts of it, like Scott and the book.”
Dockter turned his writings into, “Chip’s Book of Prayers: A collection of letters from Scott Dockter.” Proceeds from the sales will go to cancer research, the development of the foundation’s partnership and family support programs that introduces patients and their families to the outdoors and work to ensure that families receive communication and an understanding throughout the process of diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation, as well as long-term planning and care.
Today, Chip is undergoing physical therapy to learn to walk again. Every 90 days for the next five years, he has to get a brain scan.
“A relapse is common with his type of tumor,” Lea Madren said.
And so Dockter will keep praying.
“I know that prayers aren’t always answered but to see where Chip started and where he is now, I know the prayers have worked,” he said. “There are other Chips out there so it’s something I want to keep going.”
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