Teen Receives Award From the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada
Story by Michael Seguin
Few young people are as remarkable—or have endured as much—as Windsor’s Mckenna Lumley.
When she was four years old, Mckenna’s mother, Karen Metcalfe, noticed that her daughter was displaying some unusual behavior.
“She had just started Junior Kindergarten,” Karen recalls. “She was always this happy, healthy kid. There was nothing wrong with her. But, in hindsight, there were things going on that I recognize now. She would go to put her head back in the bathtub to wash her hair, and then stop. She’d stop and say, ‘That’s as far as I’m going.’ And she was always so even-tempered, but she started getting frustrated over little things.”
Mckenna’s symptoms worsened after falling during a family skating trip on Christmas Eve.
“She started waking up at five in the morning, screaming and crying because of pain in her neck,” Karen explains. “And then she’d throw up, because of the pressure in her brain.”
Despite the claims of various doctors that it was just the flu, Mckenna continued to deteriorate.
“She would just lay on her side, where she was most comfortable,” Karen recalls. “And she just kept getting sick. I was cleaning up vomit every couple of days. And eventually, I noticed that no one in the house was getting this flu.”
Knowing something was wrong, Karen took Mckenna to the Emergency Room. After an x-ray came back with inconclusive results, Karen demanded more tests.
“We went in for that MRI in the morning,” Karen recalls. “By midday, we got the call. ‘There’s an ambulance waiting for you. Your daughter has a large mass in her brain. The neurosurgery team is waiting for you in London.’”
At four years old, Mckenna was diagnosed with a pilocytic astrocytoma, a benign brain tumour.
“It was the size of a golf ball,” Karen explains. “Right in the base of her cerebellum.”
That day, Mckenna was ambulanced to the Children’s Hospital in London, where she underwent two different brain surgeries within 24 hours to remove the tumour.
“It all happened very fast,” Karen explains. “She would have died without that surgery.”
After spending an entire winter in the hospital, Mckenna was able to make a full recovery. The experience had a profound impact on the young woman, causing her to spearhead several different charitable causes while still in elementary school.
One such effort was Glitter Glam: Tattoos for a Cause.
“One summer I taught a friend how to do glitter tattoos,” Mckenna recalls. “So, every year, around the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada’s Brain Tumour Walk, I would give a presentation to try and encourage people to attend the event. While I was in the third grade, after my talk, that friend came up to me and said, ‘You know what we should do to raise money? Glitter tattoos!’”
From there, the cause expanded to include several more of Mckenna’s friends. And now, seven years later, the venture has raised over $8,000 for the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada.
“We’d sell glitter tattoos for two dollars at recess,” Mckenna states. “A glitter tattoo involves taking a stencil, covering your arm in glue and then putting glitter on it. We’d always get super busy!
We’d often end up working through the lunch period as well. We’d also set up a table at our school’s festival, Starfest. Each year, we’d have the longest line in the entire event.”
However, the experience was not without it’s hurdles.
“Our biggest problem was that we were handing out glitter tattoos to people who had no idea what they were!” Mckenna laughs. “We’d have people jumping in and trying to apply them incorrectly. There was a bit of a communication problem! There was a lot of yelling instructions back and forth between classrooms.”
As well, Mckenna also self-published a children’s novel.
“A few years ago, I went into the MRI machine for a checkup and let my brain wander,” Mckenna states. “Usually, I’d listen to music or something, but I forgot to bring a CD. So, that day, I ended up travelling to this other realm. I generally have a very overactive imagination, so this wasn’t unusual. But I ended up coming out of the machine that day and saying, ‘That would make a good story!’”
Over the next few weeks, Mckenna would dictate the events of her story to Karen. Mckenna later provided the illustrations herself.
The Secret Portal was released in 2014. A portion of the proceeds generated went towards the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada.
“I wrote the book to help people who are scared to get into an MRI machine and for anyone who believes in the power of the imagination,” Mckenna explains.
In addition, at 15, Mckenna is already an accomplished speaker. She has given talks at various events and venues, including her former grade school, St. John Vianney.
“When I give speeches to the younger grades, they’re usually very interested,” Mckenna reports. “They ask a lot of questions. The older classes have heard it a million times, but are still engaged. And people will come up to talk to me afterwards and buy my book or ask about the glitter tattoos. I’ve even had people sign up for the Brain Tumour Walk, just from hearing me speak.”
Mckenna has also given talks at the London Children’s Hospital and the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada’s head office.
“I’ve given a lot of speeches,” Mckenna states. “Usually, I’ll just try and raise money for the Brain Tumour Foundation. Alternatively, I’ll encourage people to find a charity and have that mean something to them. Everybody needs something bigger that they can work towards. Everybody needs something that they can give back to.”
And Mckenna practices what she preaches. Thanks to her speaking events, glitter tattoos and the hard work of her team members, Mckenna has raised over $200,000 for the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada.
“I don’t think my brain has fully registered the amount that we’ve raised,” Mckenna admits. “It’s still a little surreal to me. It feels amazing to do something that matters and to make such an impact on the community.”
Thanks to the enormity of Mckenna’s efforts, the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada has awarded her with one of three Outstanding Youth Volunteer Awards.
“We had actually nominated my cousin, Andie McGugan, for the award,” Mckenna states. “But then, someone—I don’t know who!—went and nominated me. I was not expecting it! It took a couple minutes to sink in. I was really surprised when I found out.”
The plaque reads: In recognition of your leadership, community service and positive impact on the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada.
Mckenna delivered her pre-recorded acceptance speech at the Brain Tumour Foundation’s Virtual Awards Ceremony on November 20th.
And now, despite the uncertainty that still dominates all of our lives, one thing that we can count on is Mckenna’s continued dedication towards the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada’s efforts.
“I’m going to continue participating in the walk,” Mckenna states. “Once people can gather together again, I’m planning on raising more money through the glitter tattoos.”