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Rotary Happenings: Club returns to Friday morning speakers series

By Staff | Jul 27, 2016

American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) advocate Becky McKenzie. PHOTO PROVIDED

For a few weeks in July our regular Rotary meetings have been concentrating basically on Sanibel-Captiva Rotary business and going over some of the details with this year’s budgeting figures and fundraising ideas. Now the club is back to our Friday morning speaker series and welcomed American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) advocate, Becky McKenzie to the podium. ACS CAN is the nation’s leading cancer advocacy organization that is working every day to make cancer issues a national priority.

Becky herself is a cancer survivor and her own story reveals the importance of realizing cancer can strike anyone, of any nationality, gender, or age. This petite 35-year-old women has been living with a rare form of thyroid cancer, probably most of her life, but didn’t realize it until she was 28 years old. She knew something was wrong, she had a number of throat infections and her immune system was depressed. Her journey to get her diagnosis took eight years and evolved seven doctors. Eventually she was diagnosed with stage 4 Medullary Thyroid Cancer with no known cure.

As Becky told us, “You have to be your own medical advocate and go by own your instincts concerning health. If your doctor isn’t coming up with a diagnosis and treatment that you feel is on the right course, go for another opinion, hell, go for as many other opinions necessary.” Becky realized each of her doctors had different medical experiences and many of those had no real answer for her problems. She finally went to a new doctor at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa for evaluation and diagnosis. He thought he knew what was wrong right awaya weird genetic type of cancer but tests would have to confirm this diagnosis. While waiting for the test results, Becky moved to Texas. The test were now in, she would have to fly home to Florida to get the results. As Becky said, “Sometimes life puts you in the right place at the right time.” As luck would have it, she was now living near The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and could have results given to her by one of their cancer specialist. Hold ontest resultsCRASH”you have stage 4 Medullary Thyroid Cancer with no known cure”.

Becky moved back to Florida, it was a scary time. She had some type of surgery but will have to live with Medullary Thyroid Cancer for the rest of her life. There really is no effective treatment for stage 4 Medullary and no drugs. She was not going to die. She would have to find her new normal. This is a form of cancer that she found out is hereditary and she realized that her dad probably had suffered with it but it wasn’t diagnosed. He suffered from depression and took his own life when she was very young. Since receiving her diagnosis, Becky found many of her father’s family and their offsprings have a form of this cancer. As a preventive, they now sometimes remove the thyroid to prevent this type of cancer in the future.

Becky did go through a period of depression herself. What would life hold for her living with Medullary Thyroid cancer for the rest of her life? But she did realizeshe was alive, she had loved ones, she was talented, she did have a life in front of her, she could help others with her story, damnshe would get out there and do her best.

Becky took up runningyes, running. She used running to get out of her funk and get back to living. This was not easy at first, but as she told us, it gave her the inspiration to set goals for herselfget up, get going, get with it and this attitude has helped her set goals in her life ever since.

One of those goals was to become an advocate speaking to government officials about cancer research and policies. She is amazing at it. Along with progressing in her own professional career, Becky takes every opportunity to lobby for the ACS CAN. She’s not afraid to get in people’s faces, let them know what it is like for families suffering from the effects of cancer, what they deal with, what they expect from their legislatures. McKenzie brought up recent government shutdowns and what that did to the financing of treatment and research for cancer patients. It caused havoc.

Recently, McKenzie met with Rep. Curt Clawson and Sen. Bill Nelson’s staff to get their support on bills to remove barriers to Colorectal Screening Act. Becky is a dynamo and a force to be reckoned with.

Advice to government officialswhen Becky knocks on your dooropen it.

The Sanibel-Captiva Rotary meets Friday mornings, 7 a.m. at the Shell Museum, Sanibel. Guests are always welcomed.