Young Adult Cancer Center
Patient Stories | Madison and Lymphoma

Madison's Lymphoma Story: Adult Oncology Patient Now Working as a Nurse at Cincinnati Children’s

Even before her cancer diagnosis (see original story below), Madison, then 21, knew she wanted to pursue a career in medicine – possibly in surgery.

But then she began her lymphoma chemotherapy treatment and while on the oncology floor she became close with one particular nurse who also had had cancer. 

“She really made an impact on my life and I realized one day—when my mom and I were driving to clinic—that I wanted to be that person for someone else,” said Madison.

And today, Madison is that someone else. She graduated from The Christ College of Nursing in April 2022 and in June began working as a nurse on the hematology / oncology unit at Cincinnati Children’s

“Working on the unit is so inspiring, even though I was a patient myself,” said Madison. “We have our hard days but it is also very rewarding that I can be a light in these patients lives.” 

She recalls the first day she shared her personal cancer story with a patient. 

“It felt so good being able to help ease their minds and answer questions that they haven’t been able to really ask anyone else,” said Madison. 

“It made me realize that I was exactly where I was meant to be with my nursing career.” 

She’s also right where she’s meant to be with her ongoing cancer treatment. While her tumor is gone, Madison, now 27, is still a patient at Cincinnati Children’s. She comes for yearly checkups and every other year for an echocardiogram.

And this past year, Madison transitioned to the Cancer Survivorship Center, where she is seen by Ellen K. Chang, MD.

Among her hobbies, Madison enjoys reading books and taking her dog, Lilo, on walks. She and her sister, MacKenzie, still run the turkey trot every year. Madison is now able to run entire course.

Thankful for all the support she’s received over the years, Madison shared advice for cancer patients who are going through treatment.

“If I could back in time to when I was first being diagnosed, somethings I would tell myself is to not take things for granted, appreciate what you have, live in the moment, and enjoy the time you have with your friends and family,” she said.

“I would not have gotten through my cancer journey if it weren’t for my amazing family and friends.”

(Update published September 2022) 

Madison's Lymphoma Story: The Fight of Her Life

As a competitive diver in high school and college, Madison Rylee learned how to overcome fear from the dizzying height of a 10-meter platform. But when she was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 21 in October 2016, the stakes were suddenly much higher and scarier.

Just before her diagnosis, Madison was in the midst of switching colleges, living at home and getting ready to enroll in nursing school. One morning, while getting dressed for work, she felt an unfamiliar pain in her chest, which worsened over the next two weeks. Then she noticed a lump just below her collarbone. After a series of tests that included imaging scans and blood work, Madison’s doctor sent her to a cancer specialist at a nearby hospital. 

Almost certain that Madison had lymphoma, the specialist recommended that she go to Cincinnati Children’s for care.

“When I heard her say Cincinnati Children’s, it did surprise me a little bit,” Madison said. “But she explained, 'You’d be crazy not to go there – they see this type of cancer every day and will take great care of you.’ I didn’t even know until I got there that the hospital has a young adult cancer program.”

Reality Checks

Over the next few days, the cancer team at Cincinnati Children’s ran more tests and diagnosed Madison with a rare type of cancer called primary mediastinal large B-cell Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The tumor was about the size of a fist and was wrapped around her windpipe and lungs.

Her primary cancer doctor at Cincinnati Children’s, Erin Breese, MD, PhD, explained that Madison would need six rounds of chemotherapy, starting immediately. Each round would involve a one-week hospital stay followed by a few weeks of recovery at home.

One of the most difficult “reality check” moments for Madison was when she had to sign consent forms for chemotherapy; the other was when her hair began to fall out one week into chemo.

“At first I really felt sorry for myself. I was like, I’m 21, I’ve never smoked, I work out – why me?” Madison says. “Then one night I realized I could ask that question all I wanted to, but I’d never get an answer. I just had to stay positive and fight. That mentality really got me through.”

Smiling Every Day

Multiple rounds of chemotherapy took a toll on Madison’s body. She focused on the little things that made the experience bearable: a visit from therapy dogs, a late-night conversation with a nurse, a goodie bag on Halloween, daily FaceTime calls from her younger sister, MacKenzie. 

Madison reminded herself to smile every day and keep her eyes on the finish line. During her hospital stays, relationships with members of the cancer team made all the difference. 

“Every day, the whole care team came into my room to talk about how I was doing and what the next steps would be,” Madison says. “They treated me like an adult and included my mom in conversations, too. I felt really involved in my treatment, and the doctors and nurses answered whatever questions I had.

"Everyone was so amazing – I could tell how much they cared about me. They learned who I was as a person, and when good things happened they would celebrate with me.”

Good news came quickly: After her second round of chemotherapy in late December, scans showed that the tumor was shrinking. In March 2017, after round six of chemotherapy, Dr. Breese said the tumor was gone.

A Gradual Recovery

Over time, Madison began to feel like herself again. In June 2017, she returned to work part-time. Two months later, she began nursing school. She started walking her dogs every day and working out at a local gym. As a runner and former diver, these were important milestones.

As Madison gained strength, she started to think about a tradition she and MacKenzie had begun a few years earlier: running in the Turkey Trot, Cincinnati’s annual Thanksgiving Day race. They decided to do it again in 2017, this time with their younger brother, Mitchell. 

“I couldn’t run the entire 10 kilometers, but that’s alright,” Madison says. “I cried when I crossed the finish line, because exactly a year before that I had been in a hospital bed getting chemo. I felt like I’d accomplished a lot. Next time, I’m going to run the entire way.”