Student raising awareness and funds for children’s cancer research

Kenzie Cotty’s experience with cancer inspires her fundraising efforts, and leads her to raise awareness among people she encounters.

By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
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“It’s cool to see how interested people are — as enthusiastic as I am about the fundraising,” said Kenzie Cotty, 18-year-old St. John’s Prep senior from Avon, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma patient.

After a doctor referred Cotty to St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a charity committed to funding research to cure childhood cancer, she found out that only 4 percent of cancer research dollars goes to childhood cancer research.

Cotty was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in July 2010 and had three rounds of chemotherapy at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, completed in November 2010.

For over a year her scans showed her to be cancer-free. But in February, the cancer was back. Now she is undergoing four rounds of chemo, followed by four to six weeks of radiation, five days a week, in St. Cloud.

“It was a shock when it came back,” she said. “But I thought, let’s just get it done and keep going with my life.”

During her first treatment, her parents had T-shirts made for family and close friends.

When her second treatment started, her aunt asked about doing T-shirts again. “I chose Rosie the Riveter because she is strong. On the back is my bible verse, which is Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,’” she said. “Prayer is a big part of my family.”

“Then friends told me they wanted to shave their heads with me,” she said.

The first time Cotty had treatment, her boyfriend, Andrew Jacobs, and family  members all shaved their heads to show their solidarity with her.

“Then it occurred to me to do this in front of the school,” Cotty said.

During a weekly St. John’s Prep “prep talk,” Cotty spoke about her intention to sell haircuts to raise money for children’s cancer research. The signup sheet had 28 names prior to the event.

“Then something remarkable happened,” said Jennine Klosterman, Prep School admissions director. “What began as a normal assembly turned into a profound statement of community and love.”

There were 10 chairs set up with shavers. People just kept coming up, and there ended up being more than 85.

The week after that, another event was conducted at Cotty’s church, Avon Community Church.

“Eight people had signed up, and we had five chairs ready,” she said. “By the end there were more than 25, and we raised more than $1,000 that Sunday.”

The total currently is more than $12,000, all of which goes to St. Baldrick’s Foundation.

“Now we have many ponytails here waiting to be sent to the Pantene Beautiful Lengths program,” she said.

Pantene uses donated hair to make wigs for women who have lost hair due to cancer.

Bald-headed young people have been seen not only around Avon and St. John’s Prep, but further away, as Cotty’s friends and schoolmates participate in activities such as girls softball games against area high school teams in Browerville, Eagle Valley, Long Prairie-Grey Eagle, Osakis, Swanville and Upsala.

“A lot of people have been touched by this cause,” said Cotty. “Cancer is relatable in all countries;  everyone could relate to this.”

“When I’m out in public like at the mall, people usually either stare or they look quickly away,” she said. “But some come up and ask, and then I can tell them about cancer treatments and how to help.”

Kenzie’s pastor, Chuck Pelkey, calls her a courageous and selfless young woman. “It has been an amazing testament to her courage for her to turn this and give so much of herself in raising money for childhood cancer research,” said Pelkey.

School has been a challenge during this second treatment. From the time the intravenous (IV) drip starts until two days after the treatment, Cotty does not remember anything.

“People tell me that I act normal, and talk and do everything, but I have no memory of it,” she said. “But I’d rather have it that way than to be sick. I’m thankful for that.”

Cotty will be graduating this spring. She plans to enter the pre-med program at the University of Portland, and hopes to double major in biology and Spanish.

“The message behind the fundraiser is that, if God is telling you to do something, you need to listen,” Cotty said. “If you don’t, you’ll regret it.”

Donations for children’s cancer research can be sent to: Kenzie Cotty, c/o Avon State Bank at P.O. Box 8, Avon, MN 56310. Checks can be written to “Team Kenzie.”