ARCHER LODGE, N.C. (WNCN) – Two cancer diagnoses in two years has been the reality for a family of Johnston County first responders. Now they are putting what they call the worst years of their lives behind them.
While 4-year-old Maddi McKay serves pretend cake and strawberry lemonade, her dad Duane cooks dinner. It’s a typical night most people would take for granted; not Christina McKay. Nights like these have been rare, and not just because she and her husband work long shifts. Both are firefighters at the Archer Lodge Fire Department. Christina’s also an emergency dispatcher.
“It’s like a second family,” Christina said.
That second family stepped in to support the McKays when, in 2018, Maddi was diagnosed with cancer. They did again in the following spring when Duane learned he had leukemia.
“You always say being a firefighter, being a dispatcher, you are calm you can get people through different things, but when somebody shocks you like that, especially twice,” Christina said. “There have been days where I have not really known how I did it, honestly.”
They leaned on their community and their doctors.
“They were kind of our first responders, really, because they helped us get through our troubled time,” Christina said.
Maddi and Duane also found strength in each other.
“They’ve always been cancer buddies, and that’s going to be their thing when they look back,” Christina said. “They were able to beat it not once but twice.”
They got to celebrate their victories together over the weekend. After a year-and-a-half of treatments for Maddi and a bone marrow transplant for Duane, Maddi got to ring the bell at UNC Children’s Hospital.
“That was an awesome, awesome moment,” Christina said. “It was her day and her bell ringing, but her dad was actually able to be in remission and do it with her and that will be something we will never forget.”
It’s changed their perspective and the way they view everyday moments.
“A lot of the times when she wants to play, I’d be too busy. And now it’s like, you know what, why don’t I just drop what I’m doing and just go do it,” Christina said. “Because we may never get a chance to do it again. For a long time, we didn’t know that we would.”