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Ray Duckler: Amy and her Advocates raise money for Concord cancer center like no other team

  • Amy McKean's Rock 'N Race team, Amy's Advocates, raises more money for the Concord Hospital fundraiser than any other team; Tuesday, May 14, 2013. A survivor of Hodgkins Lymphoma, McKean organizes a team that now number 127 runners and walkers. Though it is the second largest team, it has raised more money over the last few years than any other group.<br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    Amy McKean's Rock 'N Race team, Amy's Advocates, raises more money for the Concord Hospital fundraiser than any other team; Tuesday, May 14, 2013. A survivor of Hodgkins Lymphoma, McKean organizes a team that now number 127 runners and walkers. Though it is the second largest team, it has raised more money over the last few years than any other group.
    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

  • Amy McKean loads a box of T-shirts into a vehicle with Rock 'N Race team coordinator Donna Killion at St. Peter's Church in Concord; Tuesday, May 14, 2013. McKean's Rock 'N Race team, Amy's Advocates, raises more money for the Concord Hospital fundraiser than any other team. A survivor of Hodgkins Lymphoma, McKean organizes a team that now number 127 runners and walkers. Though it is the second-largest team, it has raised more money over the last few years than any other group.<br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    Amy McKean loads a box of T-shirts into a vehicle with Rock 'N Race team coordinator Donna Killion at St. Peter's Church in Concord; Tuesday, May 14, 2013. McKean's Rock 'N Race team, Amy's Advocates, raises more money for the Concord Hospital fundraiser than any other team. A survivor of Hodgkins Lymphoma, McKean organizes a team that now number 127 runners and walkers. Though it is the second-largest team, it has raised more money over the last few years than any other group.
    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

  • Amy McKean's Rock 'N Race team, Amy's Advocates, raises more money for the Concord Hospital fundraiser than any other team; Tuesday, May 14, 2013. A survivor of Hodgkins Lymphoma, McKean organizes a team that now number 127 runners and walkers. Though it is the second largest team, it has raised more money over the last few years than any other group.<br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
  • Amy McKean loads a box of T-shirts into a vehicle with Rock 'N Race team coordinator Donna Killion at St. Peter's Church in Concord; Tuesday, May 14, 2013. McKean's Rock 'N Race team, Amy's Advocates, raises more money for the Concord Hospital fundraiser than any other team. A survivor of Hodgkins Lymphoma, McKean organizes a team that now number 127 runners and walkers. Though it is the second-largest team, it has raised more money over the last few years than any other group.<br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

Seven years ago, cancer, in this case Hodgkin’s lymphoma, messed with the wrong person.

It messed with Amy McKean of Henniker, who kept smiling, kept moving, kept working, kept living, before setting her sights on raising money to help others suffering from the disease.

Finding McKean tonight at the Rock ’N Race, the annual 5K run/walk to benefit the Concord Hospital Payson Center for Cancer Care, might be hard because her team is so big, just like it is each year since she first entered in 2007, the year after her diagnosis.

This time, the woman who never met a conversation she didn’t like has recruited 119 members, all of whom will wear a green “Amy’s Advocates” T-shirt, with “Attitude Is Everything” on the back.

McKean’s cancer is gone, but her passion for raising money will stick around, probably forever. Once again, the Advocates have raised more money than any other team, more than $13,000.

And once again, McKean is out front, leading the charge, banging her drum, seeking money from every nook and cranny in her hometown and surrounding communities.

How does McKean know she’s once again atop the team fundraising board?

“I keep an eye on (the website) every day,” McKean said, sitting in an office of the family-owned energy supplier for which she works.

It is a reflection of her competitive spirit, a peek inside a woman who finds a direction in life, then barrels down the highway, full speed.

There are pictures on the back wall and postcards on the desk, showing the growth of her team, year by year.

There were 19 members that first year, six times that today.

“People just give,” McKean said. “Every year I don’t think it’s going to get any bigger, and it just does.”

In seven years, the Advocates have raised more than $70,000. They joined hands after their friend, their family member, couldn’t shake a fever back in ’06, couldn’t walk down her driveway without feeling winded, couldn’t keep food down, couldn’t stop coughing up junk, couldn’t figure out what the heck was wrong with her.

McKean was placed in isolation at Concord Hospital for 10 days. She lost 40 pounds.

Bronchitis? Pneumonia? The plain old flu?

Turns out McKean had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a highly treatable cancer that required 12 five-hour rounds of chemotherapy, the loss of some hair and lots of late-night vomiting.

“In a way, I was scared but relieved,” McKean explained. “I finally knew. I had been sick, exhausted, on the couch and just lethargic. When they finally diagnosed me, at least you knew what you were dealing with.”

True to form, McKean missed work only on days she had chemo. “I worked every day; I’m a doer,” she says. “When I’m home, all I did was think about it. I like to be around people and stay busy. It kept my mind off of it. I had the option to go to work. I’d rather be here.”

Out in the main office, seated at their desks, McKean’s family and co-workers – in-laws Kate Greene, Jane Higginson and Carolyn McKean – look up from their work and comment on the woman who once went to a doctor’s appointment on Halloween, before ridding her body of the disease, dressed as a candy corn.

“A lot of people who have the diagnosis just want to hang their head low and just want to go home and stay home, sleep, not work,” Greene said. “That’s not Amy. Even when she was sick, she didn’t want to be home laying down.”

Added Higginson, “She was an inspiration. Customers will come in here who have been going through chemo or some kind of problem like that, and Amy talks to them and brings it up to them. It’s just very supportive for them, and I think they feel good talking to her.”

McKean’s open-book personality and zest for each day have made life easier in the office, where any awkward feelings related to her cancer were quickly eased.

“She had a good attitude, she was determined to beat it, and she just has a way about her,” Carolyn McKean said. “She talked about it, and some people don’t talk about it. Amy talks a lot anyway, but she was open about it, which was good for everybody. She made it easy for everyone to talk about it, and I think it was good for the town. Everyone wants to jump on this bandwagon. Everyone wants to be part of it.”

That’s obvious from the numbers. A Henniker restaurant was packed last Friday for a fundraiser that generated more than $3,000. Local businesses offered free services and donated gift certificates. Red Sox and Fisher Cats tickets were raffled off.

McKean’s team is so big these days that she can’t squeeze everyone into the viewfinder for those annual postcards, which she sends out each spring to thank everyone.

So if you see one of Amy’s Advocates tonight, on or near a downtown street, take comfort in the fact that the leader of this team faced cancer, spit in its eye, then rallied the troops.

“Now I want to pay it forward, give back something,” McKean said. “It’s completely taken off.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler
@cmonitor.com
or on Twitter
@rayduckler
.)

Great job, Amy.

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