She hoped she had it beat.
McKenzie McCarter, 9, of Hagerstown, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in September 2007. After 2 1/2 years of chemotherapy at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C., she was in remission. Her mother, Melissa McCarter, said life was great.
“She got healthy. She was in sports,” McCarter said.
Then this past May, bad news struck again. McKenzie, known by those close to her as Kenzie, had relapsed. This time, the treatment plan would include not only chemotherapy, but additional chemo and radiation.
Last time, she spent a total of about six weeks in the hospital. This time, there would be alternating weeks — one at the hospital in Washington, one at home — for two years.
About two weeks after the second set of treatments began, McKenzie again was in remission. But she needs to maintain the two-year plan, her mother said, “to keep it away.” That means chemo and radiation until September 2014.
McKenzie, a fourth-grader at Eastern Elementary School, has a home and hospital teacher. Her mother, a teacher at Winter Street Elementary School, said she tries to “fill in the blanks.”
Meanwhile, the single mother has taken a year’s leave of absence from work for the second time. She has insurance, but she needs to pay the full premium herself during the time she is off, not to mention providing physical, emotional and financial care for McKenzie and her son.
Matt Semler, principal at Winter Street Elementary School, said he and other staff members felt compelled to do something to help. That compulsion resulted in the Run for Kenzie 5K Run and Walk on Saturday morning at Antietam National Battlefield.
“The group of us felt we needed to do something to support the family,” Semler said. “I’d done some 5Ks and I wanted something that would get the kids involved, so we went with it. Support has been tremendous.”
Semler said organizers set goals to gather 150 participants and to raise $5,000. Saturday’s event surpassed that, with more than 300 walkers and runners and proceeds of more than $12,000. Staff and students from area schools, including Winter Street, Eastern and E. Russell Hicks, where McKenzie’s brother attends, and others threw in their support.
Saylor Doub, 12, of Hagerstown, a student at E. Russell Hicks, said she has known McKenzie and her family for years.
“I think it’s really bad that (McKenzie) has leukemia again. It was bad enough to go through it once,” Saylor said. “I feel good running to prove to her that I want to help her.”
McKenzie’s father, Aaron McCarter of Vienna, Va., said the outpouring was “amazing.”
“I’m not a very emotional person, but this gives me a lump in my throat to see people getting together like this for McKenzie,” he said.
Though McKenzie frequently is sick from treatments, she received her doctor’s OK and stood at the finish line with her mother Saturday, cheering runners and walkers as they passed.
“She is a warrior. She doesn’t complain, even on treatment days,” Melissa McCarter said. “She says, ‘OK. Let’s do this quick and get it over with.’”
McCarter said she has recognized a lot of blessings through McKenzie’s cancer. For one, the kind her daughter has is curable. And besides the 5K, people have rallied to help her family get groceries, do yard work and other day-to-day tasks.
“And now, this money. Even in my leave of absence, I can pay my bills,” she said. “I appear strong just because of the community behind me. Now, I can focus on McKenzie and I only need to take care of her.”
“I like having you there,” McKenzie told her.