PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Several weeks ago when Hadley McClean was asked what she wanted for her birthday, her response was somewhat atypical for most soon-to-be 9-year-olds.
Then again, the Zippel Elementary School third-grader is not your typical youngster.
Nine months ago Hadley was diagnosed with a medulloblastoma, a fast-growing tumor growing in her young brain.
Since that diagnosis, it has been a blur of nonstop treatments, doctors appointments, lab work, transfusions and countless trips to and from medical facilities in Boston as the McClean family battles the cancer.
Despite that and the far-reaching side effects of her treatment, all Hadley McClean wanted for her birthday this year was to raise funds for other children going through the same thing.
“When she was asked what she wanted, she said she had everything she wanted,” said her mother, Holly McClean. “She just wanted to donate.”
That story was aired on a local news station and caught the attention of Kim Allen, also of Presque Isle.
“I saw her on the news and could not get her out of my head,” Allen said. “It’s so easy to write a check and just be done with it but I really wanted to do more.”
Allen got the idea to plan a special day in honor of Hadley’s birthday and, after talking with Holly McClean, began organizing the event for last Saturday.
“We had a week and a half to do it,” Allen said. “It was a lot of work but [Hadley] was so excited it was worth every minute we put into it.”
Working with Patti Crooks, manager of the Aroostook Center Mall, and numerous members of the community, Allen pulled out the stops for a party complete with clowns, cakes, a bevy of local pageant queens and even some spa time.
As befitting her status of the Queen City’s Queen for a Day, Hadley arrived at the party with her family and friends in a limousine under police escort and was presented a corsage and whisked off to lunch and a manicure.
“I can’t tell you how many people came up and said they had goose bumps,” Allen said. “We all got teary at some point, but they were tears of happiness.”
Hundreds of people showed up to help celebrate Hadley’s birthday a week early — she will be recovering from medical treatment on her actual birthday, Jan. 15 — and close to $9,000 was raised for the Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation.
“I was just overwhelmed,” Holly McClean said. “I just thought there would be a little table and if anyone wanted to drop off a couple of bucks they would.”
It was a much needed day of celebration for the McClean family — Holly, her husband, Tim, and their 16-year-old son, Hayden — after months of battling Hadley’s cancer.
What began as headaches, nausea and vision problems early last spring eventually was diagnosed as what has to be every parent’s nightmare — childhood cancer.
On April 12 Hadley underwent surgery in Boston to remove the tumor.
Doctors were able to remove all of it, but chose to leave alone a second, much smaller tumor pending treatment and follow-up tests.
From there it was on to weeks of radiation therapy and months of chemotherapy, speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy.
The initial surgery resulted in Hadley’s experiencing posterior fossa syndrome which can affect children after brain surgery.
“It was a horrifying experience,” Holly McClean said, recalling weeks of watching her daughter deal with loss of speech, muscle control and related emotional issues.
“At first Hadley could not speak much and then she just started yelling,” Holly McClean said. “She knew what she wanted to say but could not get the words out [and] we were just heartbroken to see her like that.”
After spending weeks at a Boston rehabilitation center and traveling to Massachusetts General Hospital for radiation treatments, Hadley finally was able to come home in June.
Hadley, who is left-handed, has had to learn to use her right hand because of her reaction to the surgery and has suffered balance, vision and hearing loss from chemotherapy.
“She needs help to walk and can’t do any of the things she used to do, like ice skating,” Holly McClean said. “We are hoping soon she will be able to have eye surgery to correct the double vision.”
Given all the family has experienced, Allen said the party was well worth it.
“Hadley has had such a tough year, and 9-year-olds should not have to have tough years,” Allen said. “For me, it’s about paying it forward, [and] I know Tim and Holly would do the same for anyone else.”
As for the McCleans, Holly said the family is grateful to all who helped celebrate her daughter’s birthday.
“I knew people cared and were wonderful but had no idea they would pull together like this,” she said. “I am just so proud to live here.”
Holly McClean said the family has learned much from Hadley about strength, inspiration and what is truly important.
“I am such a better person because of her,” Holly McClean said. “I love spending time with her, and she is so much fun. I hope parents get to know their kids and what they are all about, these are the people you have raised.”
After a day of celebrity style treatment, Hadley was exhausted, but still talking about her party.
“She told me it was the best birthday ever,” Holly McClean said, adding with a laugh, “Though I did tell her not to get used to the limo rides.”