Kedrick Nettleton, Staff Writer

When Mackenzie Smith was diagnosed last year with stage four melanoma, it would have been easy to lose hope. Instead, she’s become an example of faith and perseverance in the face of discouraging odds. This weekend, the OKWU family will run for her.  

The OKWU Color Run, taking place this Saturday, October 23, gives students, faculty, staff, and other members of the OKWU community an opportunity to take action on Smith’s behalf, as the proceeds from the event will go to benefit her family in their fight against cancer. 

It’s been a long road to get here, and Smith is blown away by the gesture. “I just want to say: thank you to my OKWU family, and to everyone that’s supporting me throughout all of this. I really appreciate all of the prayers,” she said.  

“I just kind of felt like this weird peace about it. I felt like it was going to be okay, and it’s hard to explain.” 


Rays of Hope 

Basketball player shootingSmith will graduate this May with a degree in Business Management and Leadership, but her pathway to the graduation stage has been anything but normal. She started at Heston College in Kansas, transferring her sophomore year to play basketball for the Lady Eagles. Last October, after playing only one game, Smith noticed a lump underneath her armpit, about the size of a quarter. At first, she didn’t pay much attention.  

“I just assumed that I had torn a muscle or pulled something. I didn’t really think too much of it at the time,” she said.  

But soon, Smith started noticing other symptoms—namely extreme exhaustion and frequent fevers. A visit to a local Urgent Care resulted in misdiagnosis and an antibiotic treatment, which solved nothing. When she went back home after the Fall 2020 semester, she underwent a biopsy on the tissue and was diagnosed with sarcoma—a frightening thing to hear.  

“That was just super scary, because the survival rate for that cancer is about fifteen to twenty percent after five years,” she said. “It’s just really not what you want to hear at twenty years old… they told me I was going to go through chemotherapy.”  

As she began preparing for this next phase of treatment, Smith’s formidable network of prayer partners took up her case. A change came—a ray of hope.  

“The day before I was about to start chemo, I found out that it was actually melanoma,” Smith said. “That totally changed my treatment plan and totally changed my story.” 

The treatment for melanoma was gentler, and the outlook better: no more chemo. As far as Mackenzie is concerned, it’s a miracle straight from heaven. “Honestly, I feel like God changed my diagnosis through prayer,” she said.  

Smith’s doctors prescribed her immunotherapy medication, but progress was slow. Tests began to reveal that the melanoma had spread throughout her body to various organs and, crucially, her spine. “That caused a lot of pain,” Mackenzie remembers.  

She soon underwent radiation to decrease the size of the tumor on her spine. Within four months she’d lost forty pounds. Walking was a challenge, and her liver was failing. “It was just a lot,” she said. “I’d gotten to the point where I could just barely do anything.”  

Mackenzie’s pain was increasing every day, and things seemed to be taking a discouraging turn. The doctors scheduled more scans, but she remembers that day as a particularly hard one. “The day of those scans, I just felt terrible,” she said. “The worst I’d ever felt.”  

“God works in mysterious ways and He could do some really powerful things. I hope that that’s an inspiration to everyone. 


Not Finished

But just like the sarcoma diagnosis, God wasn’t finished. Mackenzie woke up the day after her scans with no pain. As in—none. At all. When she arrived to the hospital to get the test results, her doctor seemed frantic. Was Mackenzie okay? How did she feel?  

She answered truthfully: she felt fine. Absolutely fine. “She was like What do you mean? You should be in the hospital right now,” Mackenzie said. Her tests had shown that the tumor was compressing her spinal cord, which should have caused excruciating pain. The doctor told her that she’d need surgery and that she should have been on morphine at that very moment.  

“I just kind of felt like this weird peace about it,” Smith said. “I felt like it was going to be okay, and it’s hard to explain.” 

And ever since that day, things have been okay. She started a treatment called targeted therapy, which helps her genes recognize cancer cells and fight them. Within days, Smith was seeing major improvements. “I went from not walking at all to being able to move around like normal,” she said. “It was such a quick transition.”  

And while she credits the doctors and the pills she’s taking, Mackenzie also credits the many across the country praying for her. Two months later, her tumors had shrunk by seventy-five percent. Some had disappeared completely. The conclusion is simple:  

student in garden“God has been really amazing through all of this and healed me,” Smith said. “That’s my story.”  

And even though she’s done class online since leaving campus last year, Mackenzie is still on track to graduate in May, and hopes to return to campus to do so in person. She certainly hasn’t enjoyed the experience of the last year, but she’s been able to see the lessons in it and has been awed at God’s movement in the midst of uncertainty and doubt.  

“It’s just been amazing to see how God has worked through other people’s lives. He really does answer our prayers,” she said.  

The next step? Continued progression of the immunotherapy drugs to kill the remaining cancer cells. That’s what Smith’s family and army of prayer partners are trusting the Lord for, and it’s how the idea for this OKWU Color Run came about. Click the button below to sign up to run or donate to the Smith family and melanoma research. 

 If you’re interested in following along with Mackenzie’s blog—detailing her journey through this process—click here. She hopes her story can inspire others going through hardship.  

“God works in mysterious ways and He could do some really powerful things. I hope that that’s an inspiration to everyone.” 

Skip to content