by Dennis Dalman
Kenzie Cotty, courageously fought and won a battle with cancer – only to have to fight the same battle all over again.
The 18-year-old Collegeville Township young woman, a senior at St. John’s Prep School, is completely prepared to endure another surgery, more chemo therapy and – this time around – radiation therapy as well.
Cotty was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma on July 8, 2010. It was a diagnosis that radically changed her and her family’s plans. For one thing, Cotty was just about to leave to become a foreign-exchange student in Chile when her doctor discovered a lump on her left collarbone should probably be removed. The lump had bothered her a bit, but it was never painful and didn’t seem to be a cause for real concern. However, a biopsy revealed that lump was, in fact, cancerous. She underwent surgery and then had periodic chemo treatments for three months after which the cancer seemed to be gone for good. Cotty also had to drop plans to visit Spain to check out a college she’d planned to attend in that country.
“When we heard she had cancer it was devastating,” said Jackie Leedahl, Cotty’s mother. “It changed everything. It was hard to see her lose her hair (from chemo).”
After her cancer battle, she gradually regained her strength. She began to participate in soccer, a sport she loves. She is also passionate about music and travel.
In late February, another lump appeared – this time on Cotty’s neck. Before the doctor verified what it was, Cotty was fortunate enough to take a trip to Italy and Greece with Prep School girlfriends, where she had a fabulous time.
On Feb. 27, Cotty heard the shattering diagnosis: Hodgkin’s lymphoma again. The next day, she went to Minneapolis Children’s Hospital to have the lump surgically removed. Other tests revealed the cancer had reappeared in the two other places where it had been months before. This time her treatments will be much more aggressive, including weeks of radiation therapy.
Although Cotty’s battle with cancer was certainly not a pleasant ordeal, her positive, upbeat attitude remained uppermost. Lately, she has been plagued by painful migraine headaches and requires lots of rest. But she tends to shrug off pain and difficulties.
“I learned a lot,” she said in an interview with the Newsleader. “And it’s fun to inform others about the disease, about childhood cancers. And in a way I feel fortunate because if you have to have cancer, Hodgkin’s is the one to have (easier to cure). So many good things are coming out of it. We raised a lot of money for awareness and research for childhood cancer, and that is my goal.”
Cotty has dedicated huge blocks of her time to raising funds for the St. Baldrick Foundation, a volunteer-driven foundation headquartered in Monrovia, Calif. to help find cures for childhood cancers and give survivors long and healthy lives. Cotty’s efforts are focused specifically on childhood cancer for two reasons. She has met and developed friendships with many children battling cancer at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital and elsewhere, and she is keenly aware of how under-funded childhood-cancer research is.
For every dollar spent on cancer programs, only 4 cents is spent on childhood-cancer research, according to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. That is a sad fact considering cancer is the number-one disease killer of children. Each year, about 160,000 children worldwide are diagnosed with cancer, and in the United States a child is diagnosed with cancer every 3.5 minutes. In addition, two-thirds of childhood cancer patients will have some type or other of long-lasting chronic health condition because of the very treatments that saved their lives, such as chemo and radiation therapies.
On March 20, at St. John’s Prep School, everyone rallied for a fundraiser in the name of Cotty. In her honor, many students and staff members shaved off their hair during a fundraiser. The shorn hair was donated to Pantene’s Beautiful Locks, a company that makes wigs from real human hair for cancer patients who have lost their hair.
On April 1 at Cotty’s church – Avon Community Church – both pastors and many in the congregation will also cut their hair for another fundraiser for St. Baldrick’s Foundation. Also cutting their own hair will be Cotty’s stepfather (Mark Reum), mother, aunt and uncle. Cotty’s biological father, Frank Cotty and his wife, Sarah, live in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. They, too, have been very supportive every step of the way. So have her sisters – Anne, 23; and Amy, 22.
The congregation of Avon Community Church, all of her fellow students at St. John’s Prep School and all the other people who know and love Cotty have been praying for her since Day 1. Many of them wear fundraising T-shirts that, on the front, say “Team Kenzie,” and on the back say “Cure Hodgkin’s” and a quote from the Bible: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
Cotty plans to study at the University of Portland (Oregon). She has been accepted into its pre-med program and will pursue a double major in biology and Spanish.
For more about Cotty’s life and her struggles with cancer, go to the CaringBridge.org website and type in kenziecotty.
Anyone who would like to donate, in Cotty’s name, to the Baldrick’s Foundation can send a check made out to “Team Kenzie,” in care of Avon State Bank, P.O. Box 8, Avon, MN 56310. All donations, which are tax-deductible, will be used for research into cures for childhood cancers.