Cancer experience inspires student to raise awareness and funds for children’s cancer research

Kenzie Cotty fighting Hodgkin’s Lymphoma for second time

By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
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Kenzie Cotty of Avon holds one of the fundraising T-shirts she and her aunt designed. The shirts and coordinating bracelets are being sold to raise funds for St. Baldrick’s Foundation. “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 and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma patient.

Cotty and her family and friends have raised more than $12,000 for children’s cancer research.

After a doctor referred Cotty to St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a charity committed to funding research to cure childhood cancer and to give survivors long and healthy lives, she found out that only 4 percent of all cancer research dollars raised goes to childhood cancer research.

Cotty was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in July 2010, after she found a swollen lymph node in her neck. She had three rounds of chemotherapy, one day every 21 days, at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. That was completed in November 2010.

For over a year her scans showed her to be cancer-free. But in February, the cancer was back in the same location. This time she is undergoing four rounds of chemo, four days at a time. Following that will be 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. “They thought of the name ‘Team Kenzie,’ shown with the type of cancer I had and the classic cancer ribbon on a lime green shirt, which is the color for all cancers,” said Kenzie.

When her second treatment started, her aunt texted her mom about doing T-shirts again. “I chose Rosie the Riveter because of her strength. And 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.”

“This time I chose purple for the shirts and bracelets, because that’s the color for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,” said Cotty.

“Then friends came and told me they wanted to shave their heads with me, and I thought of selling haircuts, T-shirts and bracelets,” she said.

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

“And then it occurred to me that we could do all this in front of the school. We ordered boxes of shirts,” Cotty said.

During one of St. John’s Prep’s weekly “prep talks,” Cotty spoke about her intention to sell haircuts to raise money for children’s cancer research.

“We had a sign-up sheet which only five people had signed. It slowly grew to about 28 by the day of the head-shaving event,” she said.

“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, and people took turns getting their heads shaved. People from the crowd kept coming, and there ended up being more than 85 people.

“People at St. John’s Prep use the word ‘community’ a lot, but we truly saw that in action with the head-shaving fundraiser,” Cotty said. “There were so many people and I didn’t even know all of them.”

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

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

“The boxes of shirts we ordered were not enough, and we’ve had to order more,” said Cotty.

Before the head-shaving event, Cotty had raised $4,000. That fundraising event raised $1,200.

“My guidance counselor said during the event that she would not get her head shaved unless she raised more than $1,000 over the weekend, and she raised $1,500,” Cotty said.

The week after St. John’s head-shaving event, another was conducted at Cotty’s church, Avon Community Church.

“Eight people had signed up beforehand, and we had five chairs ready. Lots of people came to watch,” she said. “People were selling their haircuts and by the end there were more than 25. 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.

And Cotty is aware that about 110 people have so far joined her in having a bald head. “Community members have also shaved their heads without my knowing it, in support,” she said.

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 sports activities such as girls softball games against Morrison County high school teams in Royalton, Swanville and Upsala.

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

When Cotty was receiving treatment in Minneapolis, a young man from Albany who was there for his 10-year checkup stopped in to see her.

“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 — the treatments and how to help. It’s a good way for people to learn.”

Kenzie’s pastor, Chuck Pelkey, calls her a courageous and selfless young woman.

“This is her second bout wth this,” Pelkey said. “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.”

“She has an amazing sense of compassion for other people.  It says a lot about the type of young woman she is,” he said.

Through one of Cotty’s best friends, Kate Wenzel Photography in Zimmerman contacted her and offered to do a complimentary photo shoot of Cotty and her friends and their moms.

“She chose to do it at The Mill City Museum in Minneapolis,” Cotty said. “She told me that God prompted her to do it, and she’s doing the same thing for our prom.”

“It really reduces prep time for prom, not having any hair,” she said, smiling.

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.”

And her boyfriend comes with her to every chemo treatment for support.

Cotty will be graduating this spring and has been accepted by the University of Portland. She plans to enter the pre-med program 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.”