Mackenzi celebrates two birthdays every year: One traditional birthday – she just turned 23 – and another to celebrate the anniversary of her successful bone marrow transplant at the age of 19.
The two-time cancer survivor calls October 8th her “re-birthday.” That was the day, four years ago, when Mackenzi received a life-saving bone marrow transplant at Children’s Hospital Colorado that sent her leukemia into remission for good.
It’s been a long road for Mackenzi. Ten years ago, she was an all-star student, head of student council and captain of the cheerleading squad. But shortly after starting 8th grade, she started feeling sick.
After multiple trips to various doctors, Mackenzi was eventually referred to Children’s Colorado. At that point, she weighed less than 70 pounds and was constantly exhausted. After running some tests, doctors delivered the devastating news: Mackenzi had leukemia.
Mackenzi spent the next several months at the hospital, undergoing intensive radiation treatment. She slept for weeks on end, too weak to leave her room. It was a difficult time, but the staff at Children’s Colorado provided much-needed support.
“They made me feel really comfortable during an extremely hectic, terrifying time,” said Mackenzi.
Mackenzi responded well to the treatments. By her 14th birthday, her cancer had gone into remission. She was bald when she started her freshman year of high school, a side effect of the chemotherapy.
Relapse and rebirth
Five years later, Mackenzi was wrapping up her first year of college when she started feeling sick again. At age 19, she returned to Children’s Colorado for tests, where she discovered that her cancer had relapsed.
“I was thinking, ‘I’m not going back to school and I could die,” said Mackenzi.
But Mackenzi’s treatment team at Children’s Colorado wasn’t giving up. They recommended a bone marrow transplant to give Mackenzi the best possible chance of survival. At her mother’s urging, Mackenzi finally agreed to move forward with the procedure. It was a life-saving decision.
Mackenzi’s bone marrow transplant was a success, but the recovery process wasn’t easy. She was on isolation in the hospital for a month, unable to even leave her room due to infection precautions. That was when Mackenzi discovered the healing power of dance. As weak as she was, Mackenzi made it a point to get out of bed every day and spend some time dancing.
Four years later, Mackenzi is cancer free and still dancing. She returned to Colorado College, finished her degree and today dreams of becoming an elementary school teacher. She is also working to become a motivational speaker to inspire others who are battling cancer.
“I lived through this traumatic experience, and I am here still to talk and live and dance,” said Mackenzi. “I want to make other people aware that there is life after cancer.”