Young survivor on a mission to help fight leukemia
When Mackenzie McCarter hosts Mackenzie’s Mission – A Health and Wellness Expo to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) on Saturday at the Maugansville Ruritan Club, she will be working for a cause near to her heart.
A two-time survivor of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), MacKenzie, 15, of Hagerstown, has become a force in the mission to improve treatments and outcomes for others with the disease. She first received her diagnosis of ALL when she was 4.
“I had nose bleeds, bruises that wouldn’t heal. I was weak all the time. My mom took me to doctor after doctor and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong until finally I was diagnosed with leukemia,” she said.
Mackenzie’s first course of chemotherapy began while she was in pre-K and went on for two and a half years, during which she lost her hair and became weaker as a result of medication. She was in remission for about two and a half years when the cancer returned. She went through another round of treatment which included radiation in addition to chemo.
“People, I guess, don’t seem to understand that it’s not the cancer that gives you the terrible symptoms. A lot of the time, it’s the treatments,” she said. “I’m doing work with LLS so kids don’t have to go through what I have gone through twice.”
Saturday’s expo will feature workouts with four or more area trainers. There will be about 20 silent auction items with donations from Whitetail Resort, The Maryland Theatre and several of the area’s top salons as well as food donated from area restaurants and grocers. Event T-shirts will be for sale at the door and prizes will be awarded every 30 minutes.
LLS, which will receive all proceeds, has been a part of Mackenzie’s life for nearly as long as she can remember. The group has provided support to her and her family since her initial diagnosis, and then about five years ago, the South Hagerstown High School sophomore said, she became an LLS Honor Hero.
“When schools do Pennies for Patients, I am one of the kids on the poster they put up in the hallways,” she said.
Last year, Mackenzie designed and sold socks through Resilience Gives and raised nearly $1,000 for LLS.
The past two years she joined other survivors in designing holiday cards for the group to sell. Mackenzie’s design was the No. 1-selling card for 2017.
Mackenzie participates in the Academic Leadership Academy and is a member of the Rebel band, tennis team and Best Buddies club.
She also spoke at the LLS Man & Woman of the Year Gala in Baltimore. During her address, she read “We All Have Dragons,” which is a poem she wrote about her experience with leukemia.
Her next effort to support LLS is participation in the 2019 Students of the Year Campaign, a leadership development and philanthropy program in which high school students compete to raise money for the organization. Each dollar raised counts as one vote, and the candidate or team that raises the most at the end of the seven-week competition will earn the Student of the Year title.
“I think there are 14 candidates,” Mackenzie said. I’m trying to raise $50,000. Mackenzie’s Mission is just one thing I’m doing to help reach my goal.”
Mackenzie’s team — Rebels for a Cure — is made up of about 15 of her friends, family members and school staff, including three other local students who are survivors. The team is doing Pennies for Patients throughout area schools, T-shirt sales and other events.
Mackenzie continues to receive care at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. She sees more than seven doctors and specialists. On the tennis courts, she wears special shoes to manage bone weakness resulting from chemo and goggles to protect her eyes. She’s had multiple eye surgeries, and in recent weeks she learned that she has cataracts in both eyes and will likely need to have surgery to treat them.
But her hopes remain high. From the end of her first bout of leukemia to the beginning of the second, treatments had already improved. She remembers one medication that was injected into her thigh to treat the illness the first time around.
“It was so incredibly painful. It was the worst part. I called it the leg shot. When I found out (leukemia) came back, the first question I asked was, ‘Am I going to have to get leg shots?’” she said.
In just those couple of years, treatments changed and the painful shots were no longer needed.
“It’s crazy how technology and advances in medicine can happen in that short a time,” she said.
“I want to use my experience and my passion to help other kids. I’m hoping with proper funding and research, things will be better for them.”
Top photo: Inspired by her own experience, Mackenzie McCarter, a sophomore at South Hagerstown High School, hopes to raise money for funding to improve leukemia treatments for children. (Submitted photo)