Not everyone experiences a gut-wrenching illness or a traumatic injury before cancer is discovered. There may not even be any symptoms. Every cancer diagnosis is different. That is why you must be aware of your own health, aware of changes that happen to your skin, your eyesight, lumps that appear out of nowhere.
14 year-old McKenzy had just finished her normal routine after playing a Thursday night basketball game in March, when she said these words to her mom, Stacy.
“’I’ve got a spot in my mouth’, she said to me. It looked a little strange and was a little red, so I took her to her pediatric doctor the next day,” Stacy said. McKenzy couldn’t feel the spot and hadn’t been sick at all. She has never had any symptoms. McKenzy’s cancer was found simply because she noticed the spot and told her mother. And because Stacy was concerned enough to have it checked out.
After the doctor looked at it, they were sent down the hall to see an ear, nose and throat specialist, where a biopsy was performed. When the results were confirmed on Monday, he told Stacy he would schedule McKenzy an appointment in Cincinnati for the next week.
“I assumed it would be with the hospital, but when I found out it was another ear, nose & throat doctor there, I called our regular pediatrician and left a message asking why. When the doctor called me back within 5 minutes and said they had fixed everything up to go to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, I knew it was serious,” Stacy said. She was watching McKenzy play basketball that afternoon when the pediatric oncologist from Cincinnati called her. They spent the entire second half of the game on the phone making the arrangements. “It was a whirlwind,” she said.
During the rest of the week, McKenzy played three games in a basketball tournament and was traveling back and forth to the hospital getting MRIs and PET scans in between.
McKenzy’s little spot was diagnosed as rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft tissue cancer. Because it is located just to the left of her uvula, surgery was not considered an option. She started chemotherapy almost immediately, and is still receiving it. According to Stacy, McKenky only gets sick from the chemo a couple of days at a time.
“She’s also lost hair, and her eyebrows got very thin and very blonde, but they are growing back,” Stacy said. Because she hasn’t suffered severe reactions to the chemo, McKenzy’s farm life has remained pretty normal.
When she is not playing basketball, McKenzy can most likely be seen tending to her many animals. Her menagerie includes her poodle, Skipper; her Shi-poo, Delaney; Pickles, her Black Angus cow; Emmett, her miniature horse; numerous goats and other animals.
McKenzy has won numerous fair awards with Skipper, at both the county and state levels. Her doctors in Cincinnati agreed to cancel her chemo for one week in July, so she could participate in the county fair. She and her paint horse, Nemo, were awarded a Grand Championship in showmanship this past July. Skipper won the right to participate in the Indiana state fair, but because McKenzy was scheduled to travel to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to begin proton radiation therapy two days after the county fair closed, they were not able to do so.
“This is the normal routine for McKenzy, to have one of her animals close by. She has an amazing bond with every one of them. They are her best friends. The two little dogs are going with us to Philadelphia for comfort while she gets her radiation for 6 weeks. She will also continue her chemo regimen there during that time. Being able to be with her animals keeps her going and provides normalcy. Taking care of them gives her a focus beyond what’s going on with her. They provide unconditional love and companionship,” explained Stacy.
While animals comfort McKenzy, her parents have found comfort with Compass To Care’s travel support. They first discovered Compass To Care when their social worker at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital gave them an application.
“We had never heard of Compass To Care, but the support we have received is huge. It allows us to be together and give her comfort. It means everything, you gotta have family around,” Stacy said. Her husband took 2-3 weeks off work and used sick days so he could be in Philadelphia the whole time. The support Compass To Care provides is making a difference. Even Stacy’s friends have noticed.
“My friend said it is so nice to know what the money people donate is going for. When people know a foundation gives to one of their own, they feel a connection,” Stacy shared.