Third-grader raises money, awareness for brain cancer

ESCANABA – For third-grader Madelyn Chaillier, who lost her grandmother to brain cancer last year, the battle against cancer is a war. For her work raising awareness and money to fight brain cancer by seeking donations and organizing a penny war, Madelyn has been selected as the Daily Press Volunteer of the Month.

Madelyn’s grandmother, Robin Charlebois, discovered that she had brain cancer following a seizure in January of 2013. A rapidly growing tumor on the left side of her brain required surgery at the Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center at Marquette General Hospital. Despite a large portion of the tumor being removed during the procedure, Charlebois’ battle with brain cancer ended the following September.

Madelyn had gone to doctor appointments with her grandmother and even interacted with her grandmother’s neurosurgeon, Dr. Richard Rovin. Those experiences and her grandmother’s death made an impact on Madelyn, and in December she starting thinking about how she could make a difference.

“I was sitting on the couch watching TV … and I asked my mom, ‘Why do people only do things for breast cancer?’ I thought no one really did anything for brain cancer,” said Madelyn.

Madelyn decided to take the battle against brain cancer into her own hands and bring the fight to her school.

“I asked my mom, ‘Can I have a penny war at school?’ and she said, ‘I don’t care, you’ll have to ask your principal and do all the (work),'” said Madelyn.

At first Madelyn’s mother, April Chaillier, was skeptical and told Madelyn to ask her again in February.

“I kind of thought, ‘Well, we’ll see if she remembers, if she’s really serious about it, and sure enough (she was),'” said Chaillier.

The plan was to start the penny war on a Monday in February, but the start of the penny war was delayed until March.

“We were going to start on Monday and we were going to make posters and send out the note and everything on Friday, but we didn’t have school on Friday,” explained Madelyn. “So when I got to school (the principal) said, ‘how about we start it in March?'”

The other students at Lemmer Elementary heard about the project during a Friday assembly, and by Monday morning, the students were bringing in money to fill the containers in their classrooms.

“The winning class got a pizza party and I gave my class a pizza party to thank them for all the help that they did – for helping me make posters and they stayed in with me and helped me count pennies,” said Madelyn.

While each class competed for the pizza party Madelyn and the other students in Sara Trombley’s third grade class went the extra mile – even giving up recess.

“Mrs. Trombley would say, ‘does anyone want to stay in and help Maddie count pennies?’ and everybody would raise their hand and she’d go, ‘well I can’t pick now because everyone wants to, so I’ll have to (draw straws),'” said Madelyn.

Even Madelyn was surprised by her classmates’ willingness to help.

“It’s counting pennies. Who wants to stay in and count pennies?” she asked in disbelief.

Madelyn’s class didn’t win the penny war, but the competition between classes was intense. Erica VanDamme’s kindergarten class collected the most change with a total near $67.

“I think some of the teachers get into it just as much as the kids,” said Chaillier.

In total the students at Lemmer Elementary raised $467. Letters that Madelyn sent out to family and friends asking for donations raised the total to $721 – well above her $500 goal.

“It made me feel good because I didn’t think we’d get very much money because I didn’t think anyone really … cared about brain cancer because not a lot of people have it,” said Madelyn. “So I didn’t think we’d raise very much money, but we did.”

On April 22, Madelyn presented the money that she and the other students at Lemmer raised to Dr. Rovin, the same doctor who had performed Madelyn’s grandmother’s surgery.

“We made a big check and gave that to him and that was, it was – (it’s) kind of hard to explain, but it felt good to give him this money that is going to a good cause and help them,” said Madelyn.

Madelyn’s work fighting brain cancer isn’t over. She plans to have lemonade stands this summer, and will take part in the annual Hope Starts Here Challenge walk this weekend to support the UMBTC. A mile marker at the walk will honor her grandmother.