Olentangy Valley News

Olentangy Relay For Life

Pair's recovery stories aim to inspire

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CHRIS PARKER/THISWEEKNEWS
Madeline Richardson (left) is the youth chairwoman and Amy Ciotola is the adult chairwoman for the 2013 Olentangy Relay For Life, set for May 10. Both Madeline and Ciotola were diagnosed with cancer in 2011.
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In a recent video project for school, 9-year-old Madeline Richardson stars as Patty Plasma, a caped superhero who encourages blood donation.

She fights a pair of villains out to thwart the local blood drive.

"I really like that my school does these blood videos to inspire all the kids to go ask their parents to donate blood," Madeline said.

The lighthearted video is a change of pace for the Powell third-grader, who attends Liberty Tree Elementary School.

Instead of fighting super-villains, she's spent the past two years in a fight for her life after being diagnosed with neuroblastoma when doctors discovered a malignant tumor in January 2011.

Through the course of her treatment, she underwent 52 blood transfusions, as well as numerous rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, surgeries and a bone-marrow transplant.

Today, she's cancer-free and hopes to inspire other cancer patients as the youth chairwoman for the 2013 Olentangy Relay For Life, set to begin at 6 p.m. May 10 and wrap up at noon the next day at Olentangy Liberty High School, 3584 Home Road.

The adult chairwoman of this year's event is Arrowhead Elementary School special-needs aide Amy Ciotola, a breast-cancer survivor.

Relay for Life is an annual event that raises money for cancer research and treatment.

Participants form teams to collect donations for several months prior to the event, then come together for a night of food, music and inspirational speakers while team members take turns walking or running on the school's track.

Residents who don't raise money in advance are invited to attend the main event to listen to the speakers and participate in on-site fundraisers.

Last spring, Arrowhead staff members formed a team called Amy's Angels to support Ciotola in her cancer fight. Ciotola attended to help the team sell snow cones to raise additional funds.

This year she's cancer-free -- and eager to share her story.

She was diagnosed in October 2011 after she noticed a lump on her breast. After a biopsy, doctors discovered it was cancer and that it had spread to her lymph nodes.

She underwent six months of chemotherapy and participated in a study to receive an experimental drug that helped shrink her tumor.

She endured nausea and hair loss, but kept working through the majority of her treatment.

"Hearing the cancer word is such a scary thing," Ciotola said. "I wanted the kids at school and the people around me to see that you can get through it.

"I always had faith that in the end it was all going to work out," she added.

Madeline's family already has seen how cancer can inspire a community. The response to her treatment helped make Olentangy the top blood donor among all central Ohio districts.

Mother Carol Richardson said she hopes her daughter's story will bring hope to other cancer patients and affected families.

"Sometimes when you're in treatment, it seems like that's what your life has become and that's what it will always be," Richardson said. "We want to show others that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and hope, and you can regain that normalcy that you lost."

Life is mostly back to normal for Madeline, who was eager to return to school after missing large chunks of her first- and second-grade years.

For fun, she likes to sing, dance and listen to music on her new stereo.

She lives in Powell with her little sister, her mother, and her father, Craig.

Ciotola also lives in Powell with her husband, Bob. They have three children.

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