Mackenzie Alexis Roach was happily planning last year for her big debut: dancing in the coveted Nutcracker.
But that all changed in a blink of a eye.
“Our daughter was selected last year to dance in Canton Ballet’s Nutcracker only to find out the following week that she had a brain tumor,” was how Shawna Roach described her daughter’s daunting diagnosis.
“Needless to say, she did not get to dance in the Nutcracker, but also had to learn to walk, talk, swallow and pretty much relearn everything all over.”
Thanks to the medical staff at Akron Children’s Hospital, there would be light at the end of a very dark tunnel for the Sauder Elementary School third-grader.
After the treatment and care she received, she will be dancing in the Nutcracker at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Canton Palace Theatre.
Nine-year-old Mackenzie — who lives in Jackson Township — will be cheered on by her family, including her mom; father, Eric; and two older sisters, Tyler and Madison. She will be dancing in the first act.
According to Shawna Roach, her daughter’s problem first began to surface in April 2011, and was not diagnosed until September of that year. “She had a really bizarre complaint. She said she heard a beeping in her ears at night when she was trying to sleep. At first it was infrequently, then started happening more often. As it became more severe, more and more tests were run. Then her ear doctor ordered a CAT scan,” which led to the diagnosis and surgery to remove the noncancerous tumor, which was about the size of an egg.
“Following the surgery, Mackenzie developed posterior fossa syndrome,” Roach continued. “Basically that means she lost all function of sitting, talking, walking, holding her head up and swallowing. She had to relearn everything.”
For that she went to the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital for Rehabilitation.
All told, that represented 120 days out of her life, to say nothing of the unspeakable tug on her parents’ nerves.
Up until the diagnosis, Mackenzie was “a very active, healthy child who has been dancing since she was 3,” her mother reported. “We certainly didn’t expect anything like” a brain tumor.
Getting back to normal has required time and bravery.
“For that Mackenzie worked very, very hard,” her mother said. “Hard enough last year to pass second grade. She had a tutor at the hospital, and once she was able to return to school, she had a tutor in the evenings so she wouldn’t be held back.”
Mackenzie calls the time when she was in the hospital “very scary. But my family tried to make it fun.”
She still has weekly physical, occupational and speech therapies.
Asked about the best part of finally being able to dance in the Nutcracker, she said, “The best thing is being able to dance with all of the other dancers.”
A year after diagnosis, Mackenzie is getting that do-over — a chance to dance in the Nutcracker after all.
She’s still dealing with some balance issues, but she’s earned her place in the opening act, the street urchin scene.
For that, she’s earned our collective applause and a chorus of bravos.
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or firstname.lastname@example.org.