Chip Madren won his battle with Stage 4 brain cancer as a teenager, and despite the lifelong effects of the disease, the 24-year-old channels his passion for the outdoors into his duties as a range safety officer for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
by Chris Bridges
Referring to someone as “inspiring” can get a bit cliché at times, but in the case of Chip Madren, it feels like an understatement. The 24-year-old carries such a zest for life and a love for the outdoors that he does not let anything—including a years-long battle with cancer—get between him and his passions. Following a lengthy and frightening struggle to stay alive, Madren’s incredible story provides encouragement to anyone familiar with it.
Madren uses a wheelchair for balance—one of the lingering effects of his fight with cancer. He has since rebounded to become a major part of shooting ranges associated with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Madren can also be found at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield, where he offers his advice on shooting and enjoys the outdoors to the fullest.
Fight of His Life
Before Aug. 17, 2010—the day he was diagnosed—Madren was a typical teenager who played football, basketball and baseball. He also enjoyed hunting and fishing. Madren loved being on the water and could often be found on a wakeboard or water skis. One day while on the lake, he lost consciousness while wakeboarding, leaving his brother to jump in and save him. Madren did not remember much about the incident the following day, but his family wondered about the cause. His mother Leah recalls thinking something was amiss.
“We thought about a million other things,” she said. “He was a grumpy 13-year-old boy. I thought he was just being a typical teenager. That’s what we blamed it on. No one thinks their kid has brain cancer.”
A student at the Saint Francis School in Dunwoody at the time, Madren went from attending class one morning to fighting for his life in the hospital the next. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 brain cancer. The official name? Medulloblastoma. Madren refers to it in simpler terms as “the really bad kind.” The cancer had already spread to his spine, resulting in his being days or perhaps even hours from being paralyzed permanently. Surgeons had to cut his cerebellum in two pieces. He could not speak for 10 months. He could not swallow. Everything had to be re-learned. Madren could not hold up his head or even blink his eyes. His mother taught him to squeeze one hand for “yes” and the other for “no.”
“Shooting, hunting, fishing and boats are all things I love. I try to stay active, and I’m always trying to do things outside.’”Chip Madren
“It was truly every parent’s worst nightmare,” Leah said. “His brain was still working, but he could not communicate.”
Aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments followed and left Madren with even more obstacles to clear. Leah and her husband Ken kept hope alive and maintained belief in their son’s spirit. He was never alone in his battle.
“For 18 months, we just hoped he would not die,” Leah said. “Chip had a strong will. We are all so proud of him. He was a great kid before this, and he is a great young man now. When he first got sick, we were told that children take clues from their parents. If we are optimistic and upbeat, then he would follow.”
Road to Recovery
The next four years were all about helping Madren resume life. He had to re-learn how to walk and eat. In fact, he was tube-fed for years. Learning to eat again was a painful ordeal, not only for Madren but for his mother. Therapy included his being force fed until he vomited. There were numerous visits to specialists across the country to assist Madren in regaining his balance. Initially, there was a 95% chance that the cancer would return. Ten years later, there is now a 95% chance that it will not.
Throughout all the difficult times, Madren maintained his love for the outdoors. “Shooting, hunting, fishing and boats are all things I love,” he said. “I try to stay active and I’m always trying to do things outside.” Madren remains an avid hunter and recently took a trip to Wyoming. He also took part in a program called “Hunt of a Lifetime.” Georgia DNR Commissioner Mark Williams saw the show and reached out to Madren, which led to a meeting that also included then-Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue. He always dreamed of being a game warden, and when Williams offered to assist him in his professional pursuits, Madren responded. His mother still recalls the words that followed.
“Chip said he wanted a job,” Leah said. “I was thinking, ‘oh, my gosh,’ but Commissioner Williams went to work to make it happen.”
On the Job
Now a range safety officer, Madren works two to three days a week helping shooters at DNR ranges. His co-workers are admittedly humbled by his efforts.
“He is truly an inspiration,” said Georgia DNR Hunter Development Program Manager Jennifer Pittman. “He shines
a light on everyone he meets. He is a wealth of information. Being such a big-time hunter and shooter, he brings a vast knowledge that he shares. He really enjoys helping people, and he gives our customers a quality experience.”
Madren offers invaluable insight into how ranges should be built to accommodate everyone.
“I don’t know what we would do without him,” Pittman said. “I enjoy every minute I get to spend with him. At times when I am pushing him in the wheelchair, it helps show me what areas we need to improve at our ranges. We are pushing to go beyond what the Americans with Disabilities Act requires.”
Leah admits her son’s experience opened her eyes to how little federal funding is put toward childhood cancer research and treatment.
“People need to know what kids in Chip’s situation go through,” she said. “We live a different lifestyle than other people. Chip lives with us and always will, yet he is such a fighter and so full optimism.”
The family is currently in the process of moving to the area so Madren can be closer to his job.
“I see myself working at the range for a long while,” he said. “I enjoy being part of the DNR.”