Mukilteo Relay for Life veteran in 3rd battle with cancer

By Sara Bruestle | Jul 09, 2014
Courtesy of: Barbara Edmondson Cancer survivors take the first lap around the Kamiak High School track at Mukilteo’s first-ever Relay for Life last year. This year’s event will be held July 12-13.

Meagan Mullanix is on her third battle with leukemia. She is only 22 years old.

A fighter, Mullanix has joined a team for the Relay for Life of Mukilteo, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, to be held July 12-13 at Kamiak High School’s track.

She is one of 147 members on 28 teams to raise nearly $13,500 so far in the fight against cancer.

Mullanix was 17 years old when she was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. The cancer starts from white blood cells in the bone marrow. It can progress quickly, if left untreated.

Mullanix was lucky, though: When she was diagnosed, she had 49 percent of cancer in her body, when Mullanix said most with ALL find out when they’re at over 75 percent.

“The symptoms I was experiencing wasn’t the norm for leukemia,” she said. “I was having really bad rib pain, and they didn’t know what it was. Nothing really stuck until we found out it was cancer.”

After two and a half years of chemotherapy at Seattle Children’s Hospital, she was in remission – but it didn’t last. In less than a year, her cancer was back up to 20 percent.

In addition to chemo, Mullanix’s doctor had her try a bone marrow transplant in 2012. She received stem cells from two different donors. It worked – for a while.

“It was almost another year after that when I relapsed again,” Mullanix said. The cancer was back at 35 percent.

Now Mullanix is trying an experimental treatment called T-cell therapy, where her own immune cells (T-cells) are modified to target and kill their own malignant cells.

“If you were to get sick, your immune cells would attack the virus,” she said. “It kind of works the same way as radiation, except these cells only kill the cancer.”

So far, the therapy is working. A “rapid responder,” Mullanix’s leukemia is again in remission. She’s hoping that this time she’ll make it past a year.

“Every time I get it to go away, it feels like it’s the last time,” Mullanix said. “So far, I haven’t been lucky enough to get it to stay away, but my doctor has been super confident that everything will work.”

She said the battle has gotten harder and harder each time she relapses but that she’s not giving up.

“It’s never felt like an insurmountable task,” she said. “I’m going to be healthy again.”

Mullanix, of Everett, graduated from Kamiak in 2010. She is working toward an associates degree in pre-nursing at Edmonds Community College. Her plan is to transfer into a nursing program at the University of Washington or Seattle University.

She’s also fought cancer through Relay For Life eight years in a row. She first joined the year before she was diagnosed. This year, she’s a member of the Zero Tolerance team.

“Cancer isn’t an infinite thing,” she said. “Just because you’re diagnosed with cancer, it doesn’t mean that your life just ends there. It’s important for people to not give in to the disease.

“I’ve seen more people beat cancer than I have seen pass from cancer. Keep hope, stay positive and know that you never have to stop fighting.”

This year’s Relay for Life of Mukilteo will be held from noon on Saturday, July 12, until 8 a.m. on Sunday, July 13, at Kamiak High School's track, at 10801 Harbour Pointe Blvd.

At least one member from each of the 28 teams must be walking the track at all times.

The community is invited to attend to cheer on walkers and donate to the American Cancer Society. There will be on-site games, entertainment and fundraisers.

The motto of every Relay For Life fundraiser is “Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.”

Last year's event – the first ever in Mukilteo – raised more than $47,000 to go toward cancer research, services and prevention. This year’s goal is to raise $60,000.

“Now that we have a year under our belt, I think it will be a great event,” said Emma Turgeon, co-chair of the event. “We’re ready to continue relay with that same energy from last year.”

Cancer survivors will be honored at noon on Saturday as they walk the first lap. A luminaria ceremony is scheduled for 10 p.m. on Saturday.

Luminarias are white paper bags illuminated with candles, each honoring a loved one who has battled or is now battling cancer. Purchase a bag for $5.

“We don’t care if they’ve never done a relay or if they’ve done 10,” Turgeon said. “We want them to show up, check it out and support the cause, even if they’re not on a team.”

If you would like to join or form a team, go to www.relayforlife.org/mukilteowa. If you’d like to volunteer at the event, email turgeonrelay@comcast.net.

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