SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. (WXIA) -- "He got very emotional and very agitated and he said, 'I ... have ... to ... say ... something.'"
It's a moment Lea Madren will never forget. It hadn't been that long since Chip had regained his ability to speak, and he was making up for lost time.
Fifteen-year-old Chip Madren couldn't speak for ten months, a side effect of surgery to remove most but not all of an aggressive brain tumor.
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One night during those ten months something extraordinary happened, something that couldn't be explained by blinking his eyes or nodding his head. So yes, he was agitated, he was emotional, because Chip had found his voice and could finally tell his family something.
"I actually saw one time, I saw the gates of Heaven and I wasn't allowed to go in because I knew that God was protecting me the whole time," Chip said.
This was a shocking moment in our interview. We were stunned into silence. I had asked Chip if he was ever scared and that's when he shared this. The moment was so emotional we briefly stopped the interview, but we wanted to know more about what Chip saw. He was done talking.
"No," he said. "I don't have anything else to say about that."
This glimpse of Heaven, this visit to the other side, happened more than a year ago. Treatment to fight the brain tumor was punishing, forcing Chip's 14-year-old body beyond the brink.
There were weekly, sometimes daily trips to the emergency room to fight fevers and infections. It was all consuming.
But Chip did the heavy lifting in this battle and it almost took his life one night in December of 2010.
Lea remembers, "He was in full septic shock. They told us we were switching rooms because 'this room is kind of cold.' Next thing we know we're in the trauma room, the scary room you see on TV. We were in that room."
"He was at death's door," dad Ken recalled.
Chip remembers everything that led up to him leaving the hospital room. Lea says that Chip, "talks about people that he saw in the hospital the day or two before or after. And when that one had visited him."
Chip was with his parents in the hospital, and then he went somewhere. For months this experience lived only within him, but finally he can share it with others -- that play over and over in the hearts of everyone who hears them.
"I actually saw one time, I saw the gates of Heaven and I wasn't allowed to go in because I knew that God was protecting me the whole time."
Chip told his family about what happened to them when they were all together, Ken and Lea and his two brothers Jack and Brett.
"Of course we were all --," making a shocked face. "All in one moment you go from going oh my God, that's terrible, to oh my God, that's awesome! All of us live everyday wondering is Heaven for real? I believe every word my son says. Now I know it's for real and, so we're good now," she said. "Because whatever happens now we know Heaven is there. It's almost like you don't have to have faith anymore because it's not faith anymore, it's fact. You know."
Chip is doing rehab at The Shepherd Center. He works with therapist Kim Polard.
"I call him the beast. He pushes through even when he's exhausted," Kim said.
From the beginning, people have marveled at Chip's strength, his refusal to surrender to something that has claimed the lives of many other children.
Chip is getting stronger every day. There is no sign of the tumor, and he has a goal.
"Just get back to walking as much as I can," he said. "I understand that I won't be able to walk as long and as far as I used to but I do want to get back to walking."
When it comes to fighting aggressive cancer, there is no precise roadmap for parents to follow, no guaranteed guide how to save your child's life.
The Madrens have spent far too many moments in the darkness, praying for answers and healing. Now they know that even during the worst, when they couldn't help their son, Chip was never alone.
"How much has God had his hands on our family?" Ken asked. "He has had his hands under our family. He's been the footsteps in the sand."