On Makenna Massi’s worst days, the 13-year-old was confined to a hospital room. She lost her hair. Nausea overpowered her.
But with green-and-black decorations surrounding her and a large “Fly, Eagles, Fly” poster taped to her third-floor window, Makenna awaited the next Eagles playoff game, when she could put on her Carson Wentz jersey and for a few hours forget about cancer.
Those were good days. Always.
On the oncology floor at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which draws patients from all over the world, Makenna’s room became the place for her family and CHOP staff to congregate, to cheer on their hometown team, and to be lifted by the girl’s spirit.
Nurses flocked there after each Eagles touchdown.
“They knew how excited she was going to be,” her father, Rich, said.
“It was very exciting for me,” Makenna said. Even after the Minnesota Vikings struck first in Sunday’s NFC Championship, she said, “I knew [the Eagles] still could do it.”
When the Eagles won by 38-7, Makenna said she jumped up and down, yelling “Yes!”
Throughout Makenna’s fight, the Eagles have cheered her on, too.
After she was admitted to CHOP in December, tight end Zach Ertz sent her a video message. Safety Malcolm Jenkins mailed a signed jersey.
“We’re praying for you over here at the Eagles,” Ertz said. “Hopefully you’re able to watch the playoff games this year and, hey, Super Bowl or bust.”
Today is Day 19 of Makenna's Treatments. Makenna's ANC is still zero. Her ANC has been zero for 11 days. We expect her ANC will be putting points on the scoreboard any day now. Once her ANC reaches 200 she will be able to come home.The last few days we have been focused on her nutrition. We have been steadily increasing her nutrition through her feeding tube. She is almost to her goal where she can receive all her nutrition through the feeding tube. We have started to reduce the IV Nutrition and will discontinue it once she reaches her nutritional goal through the feeding tube. Still no real appetite, but she is eating very little meals here and there. All and all the Doctors are pleased with Makenna's Progress. Except for the nausea, loss of appetite, and the on-again-off-again rash, she has responded as well as can be expected for this treatment. We are still unsure what the next steps are after this cycle. We will be starting those discussions this week with the medical team. Toughest part of this treatment is still the prolong hospital stay and being confined to the room for the last 12 days. Makenna was able to visit with her best friend Mackenzie yesterday. it was great to see them playing and chatting away. The CHOP nurses have been awesome in helping her cope. There is a "Makenna Fan Club" among the oncology nursing staff. Some of the nurses have even planned a "Girls Party" in her room tonight. Since there is no Philadelphia Eagles game this weekend, we wanted to post the video message we received from Zach Ertz a few days ago. Makenna even got a visit from Eagles President, Don Smolenski.Thanks so much for all the care packages, cards, prayers, and support!! It means so much to Makenna and our whole family.#FightOnMakenna#MakennaStrong
Posted by Fight On, Makenna on Sunday, January 7, 2018
Makenna didn’t miss a down.
The NFC Championship brought good luck. After the Eagles clinched their first Super Bowl berth since 2005, Makenna found out she would likely be able to return to her family’s northern Chester County home within a week, in time for the Birds’ Feb. 4 finale.
The news came days after Makenna had learned that when she is ready for a bone marrow transplant, her 17-year-old sister, Kayla, is a match.
The last month, “it was a lot of anger, sadness, and anger,” Rich Massi said, so “it’s been a really great week.”
Makenna was discharged Wednesday. On a FaceTime call that afternoon, a bubbly Makenna sat on her couch, surrounded by her two siblings and the family’s miniature Goldendoodle, Santino.
The Owen J. Roberts Middle School student said she was already looking forward to the family’s Super Bowl party at its Pottstown-area home.
Makenna was quite literally born an Eagles fan.
She and her twin brother, Kaden, were born on Sept. 10, 2004, at the beginning of the Eagles’ last Super Bowl run.
When it came time to schedule their baptism that winter, their church only had a couple of Sundays available. All the dates except one conflicted with playoff games or the Super Bowl.
“Well, we can’t do it in January or early February,” Rich Massi recalled telling his wife, Michelle.
Her reply, Rich said with a laugh, was, “We’re really going to put off their baptism?”
The Massi family schedules its life around the team, watching games together whenever possible.
That tradition didn’t stop during Makenna’s first bout with cancer in 2014, when her family started the “Fight On, Makenna” page.
In April of that year, doctors discovered a mass on Makenna’s kidney. She was diagnosed with a Wilms’ tumor, a rare cancer that primarily affects children. Next came six months of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.
During that time, the Eagles were there, too. Backup-turned-starter Mark Sanchez visited Makenna at CHOP, playing Wii with her and bringing a football signed by running back LeSean McCoy.
Before we left CHOP today, Makenna had a special visit from the Mark Sanchez and the Philadelphia Eagles. They brought her a bunch of Eagles gear and a Shady McCoy signed football!!
Makenna was declared cancer-free in January 2015.
One year cancer-free turned to two. Makenna threw herself into karate and field hockey. The family thought cancer was behind them.
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Then, last December, unrelated blood tests revealed some abnormalities. Having made it to two years and 11 months cancer-free, Makenna was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
“I was very angry,” Makenna said, “and confused as to why this was happening to me again.”
On Dec. 19, Makenna began a month-long hospital stay. It began with seven consecutive days of chemotherapy. For 27 days, she couldn’t leave her hospital room. Her immune system wasn’t strong enough.
“It felt like I was trapped within the four walls,” Makenna said.
She looked forward to Eagles games.
When they beat the Atlanta Falcons, 15-10, in the divisional round, the family even hosted an in-room “tailgate,” with folding tables and a Chickie’s & Pete’s spread.
Under an Eagles blanket, Makenna waved a giant green foam finger.
“Oh, my goodness, the family was going crazy,” said oncology nurse Alison Schoppe. “It was so nice to see [Makenna] smile and hear her laugh.”
The family wore matching No. 11 jerseys, repping Wentz, Makenna’s favorite.
Now that she is home, awaiting the next step to a bone marrow transplant, does Makenna think a message from the quarterback could be in the works?
“Maybe sometime,” Makenna said, “but he’s going through a lot right now with his ACL.”
Looking to the Super Bowl, Makenna is keeping the faith she showed throughout her battle with cancer.
“I think the Eagles can do it,” she said. “I think everyone in the country is rooting for them, so they’ll have the confidence to beat the Patriots.”