13-year-old with cancer chasing lifetime of dreams in six months
Updated: 07/08/2010 05:26:14 PM EDT
MacKenzie and Sue Stuck open 'thinking of you' cards from Hanover High School students in their Mount Airy, Md., home in February. MacKenzie has since undergone brain surgery for another tumor and was given six months to live by her doctors. (FOR DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS -- MEGHAN GAURILOFF)
The world doesn't stop because a little girl is dying.
Every morning, the sun rises over Mt. Airy, Md., climbing above the suburban house of 13-year-old MacKenzie Stuck and her family.
But at MacKenzie's house -- where a bag full of "thinking of you" cards made by Hanover High School students still lies amid spilled toys and crates of purple "Believe" T-shirts -- there's little warmth in that summer sun.
That's because after her most recent brain surgery in April, MacKenzie looked on as doctors and surgeons told the family it was time to stop cutting, time to stop fighting.
The battle that stretched through half of the childhood of the girl with wispy hair and a never-ending smile was lost, doctors told her parents. They gave MacKenzie six months to live.
Six months for the girl -- who traveled to Hanover High School last winter to watch a Teddy Bear
Toss for pediatric cancer patients in her honor -- to live the lifetime her parents had planned for her. For her parents, six months to make a little girl's dreams come true, MacKenzie's mother, Sue Stuck, said during a recent dinner at a Westminster, Md
So family and friends got to work, she said.
First was a birthday party.
On May 2, Mount Airy's streets were overrun with people wearing the purple T-shirts MacKenzie's supporters have donned for the past few years. Hundreds of friends and strangers, including some from Hanover
, came to town as MacKenzie and her parents rode through in a white, horse-drawn coach to the party.
But it was the pre-party dress shopping Sue Stuck will remember, with mother and daughter
going from shop to shop looking for that perfect color, the perfect fit.
"Other girls were there busy looking for a prom dress," she said. "We were there looking for a dress for Kenzie's last birthday."
The party was a strain for MacKenzie, who as early as April was experiencing frequent, severe headaches, her mother said. After the surgery and the poor prognosis,
MacKenzie Stuck reads a card made for her by Hanover High School students. (FOR DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS -- MEGHAN GAURILOFF)
MacKenzie began a course of palliative chemotherapy to help extend her life and alleviate some of the symptoms. There's an ever-changing mix of medicines, too.
And somewhere near normal was when the family traveled recently to Washington, D.C, with the Children's Miracle Network
to meet Miss America
, Caressa Cameron
. Along the way, MacKenzie also met President Barack Obama
. The president asked MacKenzie for advice for his daughter, Malia, who will soon start middle school.
"Kenzie told him, 'Middle school girls can be mean, so stay strong and true to yourself,'" Sue Stuck said.
The experience was just another example of the kindness the Stuck family has seen, her mother said as the restaurant's manager approached. They helped raise money for MacKenzie here, too, Sue explains, standing up and offering a hug.
The family used it for spending money at Disney World
a few weeks ago.
That trip was the one MacKenzie had been waiting for, had planned for. It was funded by months of donations from friends and supporters.
"It was hard when Disney was done because there's always been something next," she said. "Now there's nothing next. Next is Kenzie dying."
MacKenzie's cried only once about dying, Sue said. They talked about heaven, and about always being in each other's heart. They talked about how to say goodbye.
Later, in the darkness of that night, Sue Stuck woke in her own bed, screaming.
"Sometimes I sit in the chair by my front window and watch cars and people going by," she said, "and I just want to yell at them, 'My baby's dying, how can you go to the library? How can you just drive off to work?'
"Sometimes I can't breathe."
All can do is hug my baby, Sue says. It's all any of us can do, all we should do.
"Put a picture frame around that marker drawing they make on the wall and put a date on it," she said. "You'll want to remember it. When they won't settle down, just hold them a little tighter. Tell them you love them. Then tell them again."