If 24-year-old Mackenzie Young is always in great spirits, there’s a good reason. “It’s really hard not to go at things with a positive attitude — especially when I’ve literally faced the worst-case scenario,” said this native of Lunenburg, Mass. “Attitude is 90% of it.”
Mackenzie’s battle began at age 19, when she noticed a large lump in her leg during a workout with her boyfriend, who is now her fiance. She ignored it at first, but it became increasingly painful. She went to her pediatrician, who diagnosed her with an inflamed lymph node and advised ice and rest.
The bump did not resolve. In fact, it kept getting worse, until Mackenzie couldn’t walk without a crutch or support. She went to another doctor, which led to a referral to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, where she was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a form of cancer that occurs in the bones and soft tissues.
Mackenzie tried not to let the news change things too much, but chemotherapy was tough. “Probably the biggest point for me was when I had to shave my head,” she said. “That was emotional. I was able to turn it around and make it a powerful thing. I don’t have hair, but I still look cute as heck and I’m going to go out and be who I am.”
Mackenzie was facing the loss of her leg when she learned about a procedure that could change everything. Her surgeon explained the option to remove her tibia and replace it with bone from a donor. Her living bones would fuse with the donated bone to restore the structure of her leg.
Three years removed from surgery and chemotherapy, Mackenzie has come a long way on her road to recovery. Her gift is close to being fully fused, and her limitations are shrinking.
Mackenzie never knew a procedure like this was possible, even though her cousin was an organ and tissue donor in 2011. Now she wants to raise awareness for others. “I tell them donation saved my life, because without it my cancer had a really high chance of coming back.”
Mackenzie’s experience has helped change the minds of family and friends when it comes to registering as donors. She uses her battle scars as an opportunity to drive that message. “I do what I can to educate the people around me and the people who ask,” she said. “We can have a conversation, open up a dialogue, and I can explain what happened and what you can do to help people like me.”