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“Our Warrior”: Girl battling rare cancer adding to bucket list after beating odds

<i>KJRH</i><br/>The photo shows the Maxville family
The photo shows the Maxville family

By Karen Larsen

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    TULSA, Oklahoma (KJRH) — The photo shows the Maxville family, arms wrapped around each other in a show of love and support. On each t-shirt, you can read the words Pim Tushka, which means “our warrior” in Choctaw.

Saige Maxville is a warrior who was only 20 when doctors told her the brain tumor causing her seizures was cancer.

“I’m also the only person to be diagnosed with this type of brain cancer,” said Saigge Maxville. “It doesn’t even have a name yet.”

Saige’s doctor tried to prepare her and her family for the worst.

“Within a second, all of my hopes and dreams and everything for her melted around me,” said Heather Maxville, Saige’s mother, with tears in her eyes.

“She said, ‘Honey, I’m sorry, but when you walk out of here today, start your bucket list because you might have 15 months to live,'” Saige’s father, Tim Maxville, said. “If you are lucky.”

They turned to the team of physicians at OU Health and the Stephenson Cancer Center in Oklahoma City. After surgery, she endured six weeks of radiation which took much of Saige’s hair.

“That is a big piece of us and our culture. It’s a big part of who we are. So when I lost my hair, that was really hard on me,” Saige added.

But this warrior refused to quit, which is evident when she rang the bell signifying the end of her radiation treatments.

“I just finished six weeks of radiation, so I get to ring the bell!” Saige shouted.

“Thankfully were able to find some mutations that allowed us to do targeted therapy for her tumor,” said James Battiste, MD, PhD, Neuro-Oncologist at OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center.

A neuro-oncologist at OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center in Oklahoma City, Dr. James Battiste, prescribed an aggressive new treatment plan using the latest therapy which targets the mutations in Saige’s rare tumor. He said under the microscope, it looked like a glioblastoma, which is a grade 4 malignant tumor. Glioblastoma tumors are the most aggressive tumors in the brain, so her team was very concerned. He sent the tumor off to be genetically sequenced and soon found Saige’s cancer had a mutation that does respond to certain medications. Using two inhibitors, the oncology team saw a positive response to the targeted therapy.

“It was attacking her cancer cells instead of her normal cells,” Dr. Battiste added. “And so that’s that’s kind of the Holy Grail. The thing that we really want to do is to attack the tumor only and then leave the rest of her body unscathed.”

Through it all, Saige stayed in college and earned her Associate’s Degree. Even as surgery, radiation, and the new cancer-fighting regimen took a toll on her health, she enrolled at Northeastern State University in Broken Arrow, where she’s studying to become a teacher. Her professors encouraged her to take a break.

“I can’t,” Saige said. “I have no idea what’s going to happen to me in a year or two years from now. So, I’m going to make sure that a year or two years from now, even if I don’t make it out of this, I’m going to get my degree first.”

And remember that bucket list?

Saige had one more thing to add to it.

“Whenever I heard about the football team having a dance squad, I was like, ‘I have to try out for this. Dance is my passion and I’ve been doing this since I was a little kid.”

During treatment, she tried out for a spot on the new Tulsa Oilers football dance team. You will now see her living that dream on the field and sidelines during game nights.

“She is one of the strongest people I’ve ever known in my entire life,” Tim Maxville, Saige’s brother, said recently as the family gathered together in the backyard of their Sand Springs home.

Saige will tell you her family, her faith in the Creator, and the OU Health oncology team helped her win the fight against cancer. As for the 15 months she was given to live? She passed it 18 months ago.

“I like to find strength in my weaknesses that I might have and use my strength and show people I’m more than just this person who’s diagnosed with cancer,” Saige said with determination. “There is a lot more things about me, and there is a lot more to my strengths than my weaknesses.”

She encourages people to do everything that makes them happy in life and not let anything stop them from pursuing their dreams. Saige is following her own advice. She will graduate with a Bachelor of Science Degree in the Spring and plans to become a teacher. Later, she wants to obtain a Master’s Degree and teach Native American Studies.

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