Marc McKenzie has been fighting a battle with cancer for more than a year, but the Windsor resident understood the importance of being the honorary survivor at the eighth annual Relay For Life of Windsor at Eastman Park on Friday night.
“It’s pretty neat. I’m excited about being part of it. What’s inspiring is people working so hard to help fight cancer,” McKenzie said. “The thing I’m most excited about is this supports all cancer. There is so much attention paid to a couple of kinds of cancer like breast cancer and prostate cancer, but this supports everybody who has cancer. There’s 200 different types of cancer.”
Relay organizers were hoping for 800 to 900 people to participate in the 13½-hour relay, which lasted through the night and into early Saturday morning.
Forty teams and 120 survivors joined McKenzie at the relay. McKenzie, 52, walked the survivor lap arm and arm with his wife Janny and daughter Ashley.
Organizers set a goal of raising $85,000 for 2014 after $82,000 was raised last year. In 2012, $111,000 was raised at the Relay.
The Windsor relay has raised more than $500,000 to help research for the American Cancer Society. Special recognition went to schools in the Windsor-Severance Re-4 School District as they raised more than $20,000 for the second straight year for the Relay.
McKenzie was diagnosed with a very aggressive stage IV non-Hodgkin lymphoma in late May 2013. McKenzie went through the most aggressive form of chemotherapy last summer — 120 hours of non-stop intravenous infusions every three weeks for six cycles. He also went through six weeks of radiation therapy.
“There were brutal side effects and several complications. My whole world seemed to grind to a halt,” said McKenzie, who was told the cancer had gone into remission but then experienced a recurrence of the cancer.
McKenzie told the crowd at the relay that the cancer came close to killing him several times.
McKenzie will have a stem cell transplant using infant cord blood beginning Wednesday at the University of Colorado Cancer Center on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora where he will spend five to six weeks in the hospital in an isolation ward, and then two months or more living within 10 minutes of the hospital.
“I’ll admit that before I had cancer I certainly felt sorry for people who had cancer, but I had no idea,” McKenzie said. “I was an idiot. I had no idea what this journey looked like.”
Mary Tennessen and Kristi Smart, co-chairwomen for the relay, pointed out that the 25 volunteers on the relay committee work throughout the year to make it such a success.
“This is a place where we all gather, and we just celebrate our successes, and we’re all very determined to raise money,” said Tennessen, a cancer survivor of nine years. “The other thing that I think is so encouraging is that this money is kept in Weld County. Most of our different communities have relays now. Where it looks like our numbers are coming down, they really aren’t. It’s that the different participants from the different small towns are having their own now.”
Tennessen said the Relay is such a special event.
“It is the most positive event I have ever attended where you just feel supported and loved and people are celebrating the success of a lot of hard work that goes on all year,” Tennessen said. “The fundraising goes on all year long.”
Smart said the reason for the success of Relay for Life of Windsor every year is because Windsor has such a giving community.
“The committee is all volunteers, but we’ll literally start planning in August for 2015. It’s a year long process and a lot of hard work,” Smart said.