Toddler fights for her life

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GARDNER, Kan. -- A Gardner family hopes their 17-month-old daughter's story of struggle and survival inspires others. The fight for her life started even before she was born -- and then at one-year-old she was diagnosed with cancer.

The Facebook page "Angels for Addi" got started as a way to update loved ones about Addison's various illnesses, but ever since the cancer diagnosis, hundreds of strangers follow her story and cheer her on.

Her fight started before she and her twin brother Conner were born. Doctors said she was so tiny, she might not make it. When the twins were born, their parents Danielle and Brett heard Conner's cries, but for hours they heard nothing from Addi.

"We knew there were problems, we knew she was small, we were told, we weren't sure if she would make, it so it was tough," said dad, Brett Matney.

Addi survived, even though she was just over one pound. But she struggled breathing on her own, so she had to go to Children's Mercy where she got her trachea, it's still the only way she can breath. Brett remember how she was so small back then, he could cradle her in one hand.

"I'll never forget the first time they said 'do you want to hold her?' We had no idea it was coming, that moment was amazing," he said, "we didn't know if we would ever hold her."

Not long after Addi finally got to come home, Danielle says she started noticing lumps on Addi's belly. The doctors confirmed it was two tumors on Addi's liver. Cancer.

Addi went on chemo right away. Doctors had planned to remove most of her liver but there wasn't enough of it untouched by cancer, so it wouldn't be able to regenerate itself. They got her on the transplant list but then doctors decided she wouldn't survive the surgery. Addi's parents were suddenly faced with a tough decision: give up and let Addi go or keep fighting.

"We talked about it and prayed about it," Brett said, "she's continued to fight and we're not going to give up on her."

So just a month ago Addi had the largest tumor removed. The doctors are hopeful the smaller one can be controlled with chemo until Addi is well enough to have the transplant surgery.

"As long as she's fighting we're 110 percent fighting with her, we're right there with her along the way," said Danielle.

"Some people say 'it's got to be tough seeing her like this' but when she's happy and smiling it makes us get through it," said Brett.

Brett and Danielle say that smile on her face is there, even through some tough times. They say it's a reminder of how precious life is and how no one should take it for granted.

"We don't want people to feel sorry for her, we want her to put a smile on your face and see how strong a person can be," said Danielle.

Brett and Danielle say they know one day Addi will be riding a bike and playing and swimming. But they also know childhood cancer kills seven children every day. They say no matter what happens in their family, they will continue to raise awareness about childhood cancer and help other families with their fight.

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