The Maloney family has been making a lot of lemonade.
Ever since her sons were toddlers, when things didn’t go according to plan, Allison Burke-Maloney would remind them, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’
On Nov. 21, what the family thought was a cyst on 14-year-old son Declan’s wrist turned out to be epithelioid sarcoma, a rare form of cancer.
His arm was amputated, but Burke-Maloney says it could have been worse.
The amputation was below the elbow and it was the left-hander’s right arm. Those are good things, she says.
The Maloneys moved to the area just three years ago from New Jersey to help care for Allison Maloney’s stepfather who she always called her “second Dad.”
She’d been an RN for decades, and her husband John Maloney is a corrections officer.
Declan is a freshman at St. James High School where his 16-year-old brother Finnbar is a junior.
It hasn’t been easy for the Murrells Inlet family these last months.
The local hospital where Burke-Maloney was working couldn’t hold her position because she hadn’t accumulated enough time on the job to take family leave.
With the loss of her income, the family lost their home and are living in a rental.
Hopefully, a Go Fund Me page at www.gofundme.com/f/declan-maloney-medical-fund will help pay for a $50,000 prosthesis which the family is calling Declan’s bionic arm.
Contributions will also help with medical, travel, and day-to-day living expenses.
Declan has always been a typical kid, and now is a little unsure what all the fuss is about.
“I’m used to it now,” he says about the hook where his right hand used to be.
He’s learned to play video games with one hand.
He rides an easier-to-balance ‘trike bike,’ a gift from a family friend.
His band director made him an apparatus that allows him to carry his baritone in the St. James High School marching band.
“And he still punches me,” Finnbar says about his kid brother.
The brothers are active in the youth group at Belin Memorial United Methodist Church in Murrells Inlet and in Boy Scout Troop 396.
A music lover, Declan has also played the keyboard and the tuba, is a history buff, a Star Wars fanatic, and he actually thinks math is fun.
His family nicknamed him The Calculator because he’s so good with numbers and puzzles.
“He’s creative and loves art and building and music, but he’s so logical too,” his mother says.
His goal is to become a Gamecock and play in USC’s marching band.
“One of my friend’s dads went to USC, and he used to give us shirts from there,” Declan says.
Until recently, his career goals were music-oriented, but now, being a prosthetist is a strong possibility.
Band director Chuck Capps has been aware of Declan’s dream to play in the marching band in college, but also knew the teen couldn’t march and hold the instrument with one hand.
So, Capps made a harness of sorts that allows the baritone to be held while Declan plays it with his left hand.
Capps, who has known Declan for a couple years, describes him as “a very outgoing, high-energy, very respectful young man.”
Music, Declan says, makes him happy.
“You’re doing multiple things at once and it’s cool. You’re marching, you’re remembering the notes, you’re doing choreography. It’s interesting.”
At 14, Declan says his faith in God has helped him adjust to the new normal in his life, and he knows there’ll come a time when his experience will help other kids go through their own.
Declan will be tested every three months for the next five years to make sure the cancer that was removed doesn’t come back.
Burke-Maloney, the nurse, relays the statistics about epithelioid sarcoma. It’s a cancer of the tissues, tendons and bones. It usually affects males who are between 30 and 40 years old. There’s a 0.5 chance of it affecting a child. It’s the most misdiagnosed kind of cancer.
Then Burke-Maloney the Mom lets the tears flow when she talks about the phantom pain she’s watched her child suffer through.
She talks about how grateful she is for the family’s church.
“We’ve only been here three years, but they’ve been so good to us,” she says. “Our church family has become my Linus blanket.”
And while the family is learning to adjust to Declan’s situation, one of the toughest things they face is the curiosity of other people.
There was the little girl at the pool who blurted out, “How’d you lose your arm?”
And the waitress who asked, “Did a shark take your arm?”
And the elderly woman who asked, quite directly, “What happened to your arm?”
“I have to deal with it, I don’t find it hard anymore,” Declan says, even though the rest of his family cringes when those things happen.
“If only people would start a normal conversation and then ask about it, it would be better,” Finnbar says.
Another thing that’s hard for the family is learning to take. They’ve always been givers, volunteers, people who were able to help.
Now having to ask for and accept help is humbling.
And speaking of making lemonade when life gives them lemons, the brothers have already planned their Halloween costumes.
Finnbar will wear a shark costume. Declan will dress as a surfer.