Carrie Hummer will never forget the day that her happy, healthy eight-year-old daughter, Mackenzie, was diagnosed with cancer. “I remember just feeling like time stopped. My world stopped. It’s a day you never forget; it’s something you never expect. Definitely one of the hardest days of my life,” she said.
Before her diagnosis, Mackenzie was a healthy, energetic third grader. But when she started experiencing frequent bouts of nausea, her doctor suggested an MRI to check her brain. The scan showed an aggressive, cancerous brain tumor, called a medulloblastoma, that threatened to take Mackenzie’s young life.
“Her cancer had spread to her spinal fluid by the time they had found it, so that put her at high risk,” said Carrie.
The family chose Golisano Children’s Hospital for Mackenzie’s rigorous treatment protocol, which started right away. Adjacent to HealthPark Medical Center in Fort Myers, Golisano Children’s Hospital is the only one of its kind between Tampa and Miami that serves local Southwest Florida families, providing the same exceptional standard of care as other well-known national cancer centers.
The advantage of staying close to home at Golisano Children’s Hospital – and therefore, in close contact with the family’s support network – became critical for the Hummers. The next 12 years brought an endless cycle of complications that necessitated 30 radiation treatments, 10 months of chemotherapy, 30 surgeries, and endless days and nights in the hospital.
With such a difficult battle ahead of her, Mackenzie dug deep and found an inner strength that carried her through the terrible ordeal. And throughout it all, she kept a positive spirit that inspired countless others.
What more could a mother ask for? “Everybody who meets Mackenzie comments on her beautiful smile. The smile that she has is genuine,” Carrie said. “It’s so awesome to hear people say the joy they see coming out of her, because it’s also her middle name. I really believe that it was a God-given name.”
Mackenzie just seems to bring an infectious happiness wherever she goes. Armando Llechu, who serves as the chief administrative officer at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, has experienced firsthand the affect Mackenzie’s bright outlook on life has on everyone around her. “I saw her smile, I heard her speak, and you could’ve put a fork in me, I was done that day. I decided at that moment I needed to do something that mattered for her,” explained Armando.
“From the moment I met Mackenzie, I knew she possessed more strength and courage in her little body than I could ever hope to. I was simultaneously encouraged by her strength and saddened by the struggle that is so real in the lives of those we serve,” he continued. “I knew that, in order to really care for our patients and families, we needed to connect with them and show our support and solidarity in a fun, yet meaningful way. I want them to know that we recognize how strong they are. I want them to know that they are not alone in this journey.”
Armando’s growing friendship with Mackenzie inspired him to design Clips for Cancer, a community event that would support the children battling cancer in Southwest Florida. “As I’ve spoken to patients over the years that have cancer, both adults and children, losing their hair is always such a monumental experience. It creates so much anxiety, and so much insecurity,” said Armando.
Those are feelings that Mackenzie knows all too well. “When I found out I would lose my hair, that was really hard for me,” she said.
To celebrate Mackenzie and honor those who are still on their cancer journey, leaders at Golisano Children’s Hospital volunteered to shave their heads in solidarity. The first live Clips for Cancer fundraiser took place in 2018, and Mackenzie had a starring role: she held the clippers that shaved Armando’s head – and others.
All proceeds from the annual Clips for Cancer fundraiser benefit Barbara’s Friends, Golisano’s cancer fund. This year, Barbara’s Friends celebrates its 25th anniversary of helping kids with cancer and life-threatening blood disorders. To date, generous donors to Barbara’s Friends have helped more than 8,000 children – all local, like Mackenzie.
“With everything she’s gone through, it’s awesome that she can inspire something like this,” said Carrie.
Today, Mackenzie is cancer-free, but experienced late-effect complications from the cancer treatments, including severe neuropathy and damage to her endocrine system that stopped her development.
“She remains a strong, young hero. Mackenzie continues to defy the odds every day. Her strength comes from her faith in God, a fire deep inside to win this battle, and that contagious smile,” said Carrie.