The kind of fairy tale that is only written in Rochester

Columnist Steve Lange says it's a story worth repeating: 3-year-old beats kidney cancer twice

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A look back at one feel-good story from 2021.

Because we all could use a feel-good story right now.

When she was just 20 months old, Vada Kay Wiginton was diagnosed with stage 5 kidney cancer.

Doctors found a tumor on each of her kidneys. Vada’s parents, Matt and Beth, found their world turned upside down.

The next four months were filled with chemo treatments and Mayo Clinic visits.


“She handled this really well,” her grandfather, Mike, told the Post Bulletin. “She’s always got a smile on her face. She’s always upbeat.”

The chemo worked. Vada’s cancer went into remission. Her parents tried to get back to some sort of normal family life.

On St. Patrick’s Day 2021, doctors discovered another tumor, and Vada was diagnosed with stage 5 kidney cancer. Again.

So it was back to Mayo Clinic. Back to regular chemo treatments.

“The only life we’ve known as a family is to go to the doctor,” Matthew said. “I had to shave my daughter’s head twice. That took a lot out of me as a dad.”

Vada couldn’t travel far from Mayo. She couldn’t interact with anyone outside of her immediate family.

Vada, though, fought through it all. Took comfort in their dog, Wilson. Watched and rewatched “Spirit,” the animated movie about the wild horse that befriends a little girl, and they save each other.

“Vada has done more than any child should have to do,” said her dad. “She’s so strong and brave, and she does this with the utmost courage, strength and resilience.”


“I mean, it’s crazy,” he said. “She’s a unicorn—just a magical creature.”

So when Vada Kay finished her 46th—and last!—round of chemo treatments, when she beat that cancer back into remission yet again, her parents — everyone, really — wanted to make it a special day.

Matt and Beth wanted to rent a horse-drawn carriage to carry their horse-loving, princess-loving daughter away from the clinic. Something special. Like, maybe, a giant pumpkin. They called around.

Lynn Isensee, whose family owns Cinderella Carriage, just outside of LaCrosse,Wis., had been looking to buy an ornate, white, pumpkin-style carriage. Something “out of a fairytale,” she said. She’d been searching for years. Finally, she found just the one. Brought it to the carriage barn. Cleaned it all up.

Three days later, the phone rang. It was Matt.

So on that Friday, just two days before Halloween, 3-year-old Vada Kay walked out of the pediatric cancer unit, and out of Saint Marys Hospital, and rang that “end of chemo” handbell to the crowd of friends and family and doctors and nurses and women dressed as princesses — Anna and Elsa and Snow White.

Vada was wearing a princess dress and pink cowgirl boots. She was wearing a unicorn horn headband.

Then she saw the carriage — an ornate white pumpkin — pulled by Ted and Count, a pair of Percheron horses decked out in pink bows. Lynn was at the reins.


“Just the look on Vada’s face said it all,” Matt said.

And Vada Kay, and parents Matt and Beth, stepped out of the hospital and into, just for a little while even, a real-life fairytale.

Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.

Vada Kay Wiginton poses for a photo with princesses to celebrate her last day of chemotherapy Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, outside of Saint Marys in Rochester. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Traci Westcott

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