Madelyn Ebetino Shumaker: Becoming Maddie Panda
Madelyn Ebetino Shumaker, daughter of Corrie and Jesse Shumaker, and co-creator of Becoming Maddie Panda is a hero in the battle against childhood cancer. She passed away on December 10, 2015 but her legacy lives on through her family’s work. We had an opportunity to speak with Corrie Shumaker, Madelyn’s mother, about Maddie’s fearlessness, her desire to help others and how her family has continued to honor her memory and build Madelyn’s legacy.
Madelyn was diagnosed with DIPG, Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, in January 2015. Her family knew something was wrong but they didn’t think it could be anything life threatening. Corrie shares “she was skiing just a couple nights before being diagnosed. On that day we found out, we also found out she had less than a year to live.”
In Omaha, Nebraska there is no treatment for DIPG so Jesse, Madelyn’s father, began to search for clinical trials that were available and contacted doctors, researchers and other families dealing with DIPG. This led them to St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis where Maddie joined a clinical trial, underwent radiation and chemotherapy and for most of 2015, Maddie remained symptom-free. A blessing in that it gave her family an opportunity to make memories with Madelyn when she was still healthy, travel and make the most of the time they had left together.
In October 2015, Maddie’s tumor went into progression and she went to Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York so her biopsy results could be part of a medical trial. While in New York, Maddie and her family connected with Michael Flatley, founder of Books That Heal, and began the process of making Becoming Maddie Panda.
Corrie shares, “Maddie didn’t like being the focus; she didn’t want the book to be about herself. Maddie had her eighth birthday at the Memphis Zoo and fell in love with pandas. Everyone started giving Maddie panda-themed gifts and instead of writing her name as “Maddie” she wrote “Maddie Panda” on her papers at school. Right before she died, Maddie picked out presents for her friends for Christmas and she bought pandas with ribbons on them with her name. She created a symbol for her friends to remember her.”
Madelyn started the process of illustrating Becoming Maddie Panda but soon after, her condition declined quickly, and she lost the ability to use her right arm and by December 10th, Maddie passed away. Corrie finished the book in 2016 and royalties from book sales now go to a Charitable Foundation in Madelyn’s name, helping to support organizations dedicated to pediatric cancer research and giving to organizations and causes that Maddie personally loved.
After Madelyn passed away, her family has continued to honor who she was by giving back to organizations that meant so much to Madelyn and her family during her short life.
Jesse Shumaker has created the Nebraska chapter of The Cure Starts Now (https://thecurestartsnow.org/get-involved/chapters/nebraska), an organization dedicated to funding pediatric cancer research. To date, they have raised over $150,000 with the annual Race Against the Odds 5K that takes place in April each year.
Meanwhile, Corrie has focused on building Madelyn’s legacy based on the things that she personally loved including her school, her family’s mission work and other organizations that helped her family while they were fighting DIPG. Corrie shares that they have set up a permanently endowed scholarship at Maddie’s school, Brownell-Talbot (https://www.brownell.edu/giving/madelyn-shumaker-memorial-scholarship); they have sponsored a room at Ronald McDonald House to help other families and have even sponsored the Red Panda part of the panda exhibit at the Memphis Zoo.
Corrie shares that “continuing to give back is our way of remembering Madelyn; we want to make the difference Madelyn would have made if she were here.”
However, one of the most significant works in Madelyn’s name has been expanding a health clinic and chapel in rural Guatemala, Clinical Medica Salvatore (https://www.saludquetransforma.com/), and through Madelyn’s college savings have built a pediatric wing. Corrie shares, “my grandfather, Madelyn’s great-grandfather, spearheaded the fundraising to build the clinic and we also raised money to build a chapel which is used for nurse training as well as food distribution and tutoring programs for local children. The chapel and clinic are where Maddie always wanted to donate her money. After her passing, Madelyn’s college savings were used to build the pediatric wing in her memory."
This is one of Maddie’s quotes from her book. Madelyn was a force; fearless as her mother describes. “She taught us so much. Maddie loved rock climbing, skiing and when it came to her illness, she was fearless too. She never worried about what might happen. She showed everyone it’s possible to be fearless and positive no matter what.” Two weeks before Maddie died, at one of the worst moments of the whole year, Maddie was in the emergency room in terrible pain. Corrie began to wonder if it was time to call it quits. In that moment Maddie said “cancer is not that bad” helping her mom know it was okay to keep going, to keep fighting until the end.
In spite of all that she went through, Madelyn showed extraordinary strength of spirit. Corrie shares “if Madelyn had just one thing to share with any child or family facing chronic illness, I think it would be that no matter the circumstances, there’s always a reason to stay positive. There’s always happiness.”
Every Books That Heal author has a unique story to share. While each experiences illness and loss differently, the consistent message is one of strength and resilience in the face of overwhelming adversity.
Thank you Corrie, the entire Shumaker family and Madelyn for sharing your journey with us and for showing us that sometimes the greatest heroes come in the hearts of small children fighting life’s biggest battles.