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Lessons learned from cancer

MacKenzie Gerszewski is the featured speaker at this year's Stutsman County Relay for Life event in Jamestown. Courtesy / MacKenzie Gerszewski

If you go

What: 23rd Stutsman County Relay for Life

When: 5 to 11 p.m. Friday, April 26

Where: Larson Center, University of Jamestown, 900 7th St. NE

Details: opening/closing ceremony, survivor and caregiver walk, luminaria ceremony

MacKenzie Gerszewski was a 15-year-old freshman at Jamestown High School in 2011, when a checkup for a sinus infection led to a rare cancer diagnosis.

"I had a lump on the side of my nose," Gerszewski said. "It ended up being a really, really rare cancer called adenoid cystic carcinoma. It's rare for anyone to get it, but almost unheard of for kids to get it.

"I was more likely to be struck by lightning, statistically speaking."

Gerszewski underwent "the trifecta of treatments" - surgery, radiation and chemotherapy - before entering remission. She considers herself to be cancer free today, but her health is still closely monitored.

"At 19, when I was a freshman in college, there was a small nodule in my lung that they removed," she said. "This last summer, in August, I had one tumor removed from each of my lungs. As of right now, there's nothing that I know of but I'm checked every six months."

Gerszewski is the featured speaker at tonight's Stutsman County Relay for Life event at the Larson Center in Jamestown, an event that raises money for the American Cancer Society.

"I would really like to focus on the lessons I've learned from it, or the good that's come out of, because I do think there's more good than bad," she said.

One of the good things that came out of her cancer experience was her exposure to the medical field and possible professions.

"My experience has definitely made me realize how much I would like to be a doctor," Gerszewski said. "My own doctors have been such great role models for me that I want to be able to do for other people what they've done for me."

Gerszewski graduated from the University of Jamestown with a biochemistry degree last fall. She is currently working in Fargo as an endoscopy technician, but she will move to Idaho this fall to begin medical school.

"I wouldn't be where I am today, on my way to medical school, without meeting half of the people I did because I had cancer," Gerszewski said. "I have met most of the people who have been most influential in my life through this experience."

Cancer also gave Gerszewski a lesson in perspective.

"I was diagnosed at 15, and at 15, you're just trying to figure out who you are," Gerszewski said. "I think that I have a very different perspective of things and life in general now."

If there is one message Gerszewski hopes to convey tonight to individuals who are currently undergoing cancer treatment and their families, it is the power of having a positive outlook.

"It's all about perspective," she said. "Things obviously could be better, but they could always be worse."