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‘I hope ... we are able to save another kid’: After son’s cancer death, parents push for alternative treatment

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WAKE FOREST — In the end, God didn’t grant Mark and Rachel’s prayers to keep their son alive; God granted Mickey’s prayer to end his painful battle with cancer.

Mark Macholl said that thought — knowing his 5-year-old boy was ready to go — helped him hold on to his faith when grief threatened to push him away from religion.

The Wake Forest father said he was convinced God had told his family to seek integrative cancer treatment for Mickey at a facility in Arizona. Doctors said the treatment seemed to be working, but was “too little, too late” and Mickey died in December 2016.

“When we knew he was going to die, I was like, ‘What the hell?’” Mark recalled last week in a teary interview. “I thought I was going insane. I thought I heard God’s voice: ‘Come out here.’ What for?”

‘Mickey’s Fight’

Faith, family and friction with established medical and legal systems are the themes of Mark Macholl’s new memoir, “Mickey’s Fight.”

Mickey was the youngest of the three Macholl brothers. Charismatic, Mickey loved superheroes, getting to know girls and running around with his brothers Trey and Tyce. He loved the toy section at Target stores.

In June 2015, Mickey, 4 at the time, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, cancer of the adrenal glands. After emergency surgery, Mickey was declared cancer-free, but his parents write that the cancer grew back three months later.

Doctors arranged for Mickey to undergo chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy. Along the way, Mickey kept an upbeat attitude, although his parents could tell the treatments were wearing on him.

Mark began looking for books and articles from other dads of cancer patients, but finding none, he began to write down his own thoughts. He posted intimate updates on that Facebook grew a following. Friends and family said he should write a book.

The book, self published in August, is a compilation of Mark and Rachel’s Facebook posts during Mickey’s two-year ordeal with cancer. In the pages, the parents advocate for the right of families to choose alternative — and controversial — cancer treatments for children.

Integrated medicine

Mickey’s parents said they were worried Mickey’s chemotherapy would have devastating side effects and would not stop future cancers forming in their son’s body.

“So that’s what really led us to, whoa, there has to be something different here,” Mark said. “There’s something malfunctioning in his body for this cancer to grow.”

The family became interested in a whole-body approach to treatment that included vitamins, essential oils and natural remedies, among other treatments.

Integrative medicine, including acupuncture and aromatherapy, may help treat side effects like pain, trouble sleeping, nausea and mood, according to the National Institutes of Health. There is no evidence it can cure or treat the cancer itself, it says.

Doctors resisted the family’s request to take Mickey off chemotherapy and social services threatened to take Mickey from their custody if he did not continue treatment, Rachel said.

Ultimately, the family continued with chemo and radiation while also taking Mickey to an integrated integrative health doctor in Myrtle Beach, and later, the facility in Arizona.

“We were able to curb his side effects greatly,” Mark said. “He didn’t throw up hardly at all. On the cancer floor he would go out of his room and play in the play room. He was the only one who could.”

Grief and Faith

Mark and Rachel said they hope “Mickey’s Fight” will teach other families about integrated medicine and eventually change laws to make such treatments easier.

The book also is a tool others can use to deal with issues of grief and faith, they said.

“It’s really easy to turn your back and turn on God,” Rachel said. “The opposite happened to us.”

The book is filled with anecdotes Rachel and Mark say prove God was watching out for the family — like how Mickey slipped and fell in the bathtub, rupturing his tumor, and alerting the family to his cancer. Had that not happened, doctors probably wouldn’t have found Mickey’s cancer until it had spread much further.

The parents also write about signs after Mickey’s death that indicate he is in heaven with Jesus. They said they hope the book gives comfort to other families, and they are working on a second book that is expected to be a guide on grief.

“I hope it falls in the right hands and we are able to save another kid if someone reads it in time,” Rachel said.

“Mickey’s Fight” can be ordered online at bit.ly/2o0HNbJ or at Page 158 Books in Wake Forest.

Mark and Rachel will hold a book signing at Page 158 Books starting at 3 p.m. Saturday. The event will include live music from country music artist Jason Michael Carroll.

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