Kati and Maci's story: Never alone on a childhood cancer journey

When Maci was only two and a half, she began having trouble standing during circle time at her daycare. Her mother Kati quickly brought her to a pediatrician, who said it was only a pulled muscle, but the pains started growing, eventually leaving her unable to walk. After a month of check-ups for a pulled muscle, Kati took Maci to the emergency room to get bloodwork done and only a few hours later, they were informed Maci had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Maci would continue receiving chemotherapy treatments at Sick Kids for the next two and a half years. Fortunately, their loved ones and communities would find new ways to support them through their struggles and successes.

Maci Millen in a hospital bed.
Maci Millen

Support and encouragement from friends and family

Kati remembers the early days of Maci’s treatments being very exhausting. She soon realized she needed help to get Maci to her appointments, as well as emotional support during the harder moments.

I needed their support during that time, as a day at Sick Kids was so emotionally and physically draining. I remember one time, my mom didn’t come with me to an appointment. We weren’t even there an hour and I called my mom in the bathroom because I was having a complete mental breakdown. My mom promised she would never miss an appointment ever again.

Kati said that Maci’s diagnosis put added stress on her entire family, but they never showed it and never hesitated to be there for them both.

“My cousins organized a big fundraiser for Maci. It was so heartwarming to see how many people showed up because they had heard our story. I also had a few friends that did whatever they could to come keep me company in Toronto or made sure they were available for my late-night phone calls when Maci was sleeping. I never felt alone in our journey and I’ll always be thankful for them.”

Creating new traditions with Pedal for Hope and Relay For Life

Maci Millen and Constable John Townsend
Maci and Constable John Townsend

Every Spring since 2005, police officers have pedalled throughout Central Ontario, to visit schools and raise money for pediatric cancer research.

Shortly after Maci’s diagnosis in 2012, Kati’s mother was contacted by the Pedal for Hope team to ask if they were interested in participating. After saying yes, they were contacted by Constable John Townsend. They arranged to meet at the Peterborough Police station, so John would have the chance to meet the person that he would be riding in honour of during Pedal for Hope.

“This was the start to an amazing friendship that over years has turned into so much more. We consider John and his family part of our family.”

Now, 10 years later, Kati and Maci still remember their first Pedal for Hope event. The atmosphere with students dancing, laughing and cheering stuck with them for many years.

We were completely blown away by how excited the students at the school John and Maci attended were. The awareness messages were presented in such a fun and entertaining way that really engaged the children. And Maci always loved the big beach balls, when the principals got pied in the face and when she got to shave John Townsend’s head.

Maci’s final ride with the Pedal for Hope team was also a very emotional moment for Kati. She remembers walking alongside Maci as Kati and John had to push her the whole way so Maci can finish the ride. But the crowd still stayed, cheering and clapping until she finished. 

Their experience at Pedal for Hope also compelled Kati to attend Relay For Life again - a tradition that started when she was in high school, with her mother to honour their family members they had lost to cancer. Celebrating the survivors and seeing all the candles lit up at night during the luminary ceremony are memories she says she’ll never forget. Attending again with Maci has also served as a reminder of the many ways the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) has touched her life.

“Because of all the cancer research that has changed our lives, we now have a Team Maci. Our friends and family that come cheer on Maci during the survivor’s lap” says Kati. “We will always be so grateful for the Canadian Cancer Society for working as hard as they do. Their work is providing research that is saving so many lives.”

A message of encouragement for other families

Maci Millen in front of her bicycle holding a sign that says I beat cancer & now I am donating my hair.
Maci Millen  promoting Pedal For Hope

Today, Maci is cancer-free and will be participate in Pedal For Hope again this year. She is in grade 7 and continues loving time with her family, friends, playing soccer and shopping. Kati hopes that that any other parents with children undergoing cancer treatments know the early signs of cancer and that they speak up and see a doctor as soon as possible. And of course, to take the opportunities to celebrate life and the time parents and children have together.

“Life can change so quickly so be that present parent that is cheering your child through life; those are the memories Maci remembers from her journey. And if you’re in a similar situation like ours, reach out to CCS. You won’t regret it!”