The intensity and physical battles that Megan MacKenzie witnessed up close during her career as an ice hockey official were nothing compared to what she would face in her personal fight with breast cancer. Her determined and courageous response, and her selfless efforts to continue to raise funds to help others who face the same challenge, helped Megan defeat cancer and led to her being named recipient of the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center’s 2012 Inspiration Award, the center’s highest honor.
An engaging and energetic cancer survivor, Megan was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer in 2007. In a case of the worst possible timing, she received her cancer diagnosis the day of her mother’s funeral. Almost unbelievably, her father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer just five days later. In yet another cruel twist, her father lost his battle on Christmas Day 2007 at the age of 86.
As dire as the situation was, and despite countless ups and downs during the course of her diagnosis and treatment, Megan refused to feel sorry for herself and drew on the strength of family and friends, and her doctors and nurses at the Wilmot Cancer Center. After two surgeries, eight rounds of chemotherapy and 42 radiation treatments, Megan received the words she had been waiting for.
“I graduated from the Wilmot Cancer Center on January 23, 2008 (the date of her last treatment) and since then I have been cancer free,” the retired USA Hockey official beams. “Until that point, everything that could go wrong did go wrong.”
Her personal battle now complete, MacKenzie took up the fight for others as a way of giving back. A fitness boxing class she took to gain back her strength introduced her to nine other women who wanted to do a boxing fundraiser for breast cancer, and the annual “Knock-Out Breast Cancer” was born.
“They wanted me to be their poster child,” she laughs.
Her fellow officials in the close-knit sport of hockey had also come to her aid during her struggles. In April they had donated funds to Megan and another official who had also been diagnosed with cancer within weeks of her. The donation came with a book of inspirational messages from her colleagues.
“I was floored. So many people had done so much for me, I felt that I had to return the favor because I’m a firm believer in giving back. I felt the best way was to help the next person in line.”
She has gone far beyond just helping the next person walking in her shoes. To date, she has raised more than $100,000 to support the Comprehensive Breast Care Center at the Wilmot Cancer Center through a myriad of local and national fundraising efforts to support breast cancer patients right here in Rochester.
“Megan simply epitomizes the hope, determination, and courage for which the Inspiration Award is given,” said Richard I. Fisher, M.D., who served as director of the Wilmot Cancer Center when Megan was treated “Despite a number of personal and family setbacks she has not only endured, but has made the future much brighter for others following in her path. We are sincerely appreciative of all that she has done to support the Wilmot Cancer Center.”
With the support of her close friends in hockey officiating circles, MacKenzie took on her biggest fundraising challenge in July 2011 – Hiking for a Cure. She and three of her colleagues hiked Section 12 of the Colorado trail, spending four days backpacking through the rugged Rocky Mountain wilderness. The trek included 24 miles along the trail, and an additional 3-5 miles each day just getting to and from the trail.
Thanks to Megan’s efforts, Hiking for a Cure raised approximately $10,000. Funds from this year’s Golden Challenge women’s soccer game between Nazareth and SUNY Brockport and from her 50th birthday party (“a kegger,” she laughs), raised an additional $7,000, enabling her to generate $17,000 for the Wilmot Cancer Center. Her desire to raise funds for the center stems from her great respect for the physicians and researchers based there.
“When you realize the talent at the Wilmot Cancer Center, which is in our own backyard, you realize the need to support the research,” she said. “During this time fundraising, I’ve met more and more people behind the scenes. When you see what needs to be done, you can’t help but to be inspired and roll your sleeves up. It’s not going to take one person to beat this (cancer)…it’s going to take a whole community to beat it.”