BRIGHTON, Mich. – It’s a special surprise for a college student who is fighting Stage 4 cancer. It comes to her by way of another cancer warrior, a coach who faced a Stage 4 diagnosis and is now dedicating his life to paying it forward.
Whenever a member of the Brighton community is in need, the entire community rallies around them, from Metro Detroit businesses to total strangers.
For 21-year-old Maddie Odum, who is battling a rare Stage 4 form of cancer, let’s say she is getting the gift that everybody wants right now.
Odum grew up in Brighton. While studying at Grand Valley State, her life changed instantly last November as she and her family got the shocking diagnosis of a rare Stage 4 cancer.
“They told me I had a sarcomatoid carcinoma of the lung,” said Odum
Rhonda Walker: “Describe emotionally how you handled that moment and how you handled that diagnosis with your family.
Odum: “I think I went into a state of shock and denial.”
She had strong family support to get through her diagnosis.
“They’re so supportive,” Odum said. “I have a twin sister named Brooke, and she’s my ride-or-die anyway. So, she’s just someone I can always count on. Same with my mom and my dad; they’re just there for me every step of the way.”
Mark Howell is the Brighton High School soccer coach. Nine years ago, he was diagnosed with an aggressive Stage 4 melanoma cancer and given just six weeks to live.
“It was two weeks after my son was born,” said Howell. “So here I am with a two-week-old newborn boy. And literally, I remember like it was yesterday coming home and delivering that news to my wife.”
With no time to spare, Howell traveled the country seeking cutting-edge treatments, none of which was covered by insurance.
But Howell was covered by his Brighton community.
“They raised about $200,000 for my family, and I and it literally funded my life for the next several years,” Howell said. “A lot of people didn’t even know me. They just knew of this young man battling, you know, a crazy cancer diagnosis with a newborn son. All in almost a five-year journey from start to finish, from six weeks, to live to now six years cancer free.”
Walker: “You said the community literally funded your life.”
Howell: “(Yes) And I’m a firm believer that all of it together is why I’m here today.”
Howell founded Fund A Life so he could pay it forward.
“I wanted to start an organization that would do exactly what the community did for me,” Howell said.
Kevin Van Kannel is a friend and member of the Brighton community and introduced the two cancer warriors.
“They’re awesome people,” Odum said.
“Very clear that her spirit was awesome, and that was just somebody that we wanted to get behind,” Howell said.
In addition to Metro Detroit businesses, Van Kannel’s company UTEC just so happened to have a suite for Detroit Lions games and access to anything else at Ford Field, including Taylor Swift.
Odum is taking her twin, mom, aunt, a cousin who saw Swift in 2011 at Ford Field, and three lucky friends.
“I called one of my friends, and she cried on the phone,” Odum said. “It’s just such a crazy cool experience, and I’m just excited I can bring them.”
Walker: Crazy cool because you’re not just sitting in any seats.
Odum: “No. I’ve never even been in a suite. It’s just hard to believe that people care so much about me.”
“She’s the one doing all the hard work,” Van Kannel said. “Mark’s doing all the hard work. We just happen to have a suite available for them that night. We got the easy stuff to do. They are the ones fighting the battles.”
Odum and Howell are fighting with gratitude while also learning life lessons.
“Just to appreciate the little things and just to be grateful,” Odum said. “And I think it’s made me realize my purpose, which is to inspire others and to motivate people to keep going.”
A milestone is coming for Odum next week, as she has just one more round of chemo left.
Fund A Life helps people facing significant life-altering circumstances of all kids. Click here to learn more.