Amanda_mckean2Amanda McKean outside Zebu Forno in Red Bank.

Amanda McKean spent two years as a toddler fighting leukemia. Thirteen years later, she’s a high school junior organizing an event at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional to for pediatric cancer awareness.

Tomorrow night, local restaurateur Tim McLoone, whose 10-year-old son is battling cancer, will perform with his band, Holiday Express, and singer-songwriter Laura Higgins, at McKean’s event, called “cancercrushernight.”

Goodies such as concert tickets and restaurant and spa certificates will be auctioned, with the money going to Monmouth Medical Center’s Valerie Center and “I’m Too Young For This!” (aka i[2]y), an advocacy group founded by Brooklynite Matthew Zachary.

The perennially-optimistic McKean chatted with redbankgreen about her cancer, her ambitions, the meaning of her life, and what it’s like being a “poster child for pediatric cancer.”

What motivated you to organize the CancerCrusher event?

I had pediatric cancer when I was two. I was treated at Sloan Kettering. I was really fortunate. I go to the pediatric cancer wing once a year for long-term checkups. I can’t express the feeling I have when I see these patients. I want to connect with them and share my story. I want them to see, ‘Here I am, I’m a survivor, I’m living proof. Just keep fighting.’ The parents will talk to me about my experience. It’s really touching and I love it. This is the whole reason for doing it.

You don’t think of teenagers as having cancer. It’s a much bigger group than people consider. [One million, according to i[2]y’s website.] Last year, I was doing a research project about pediatric cancer and came across Matthew Zachary. He was diagnosed at age 21 while at college, and didn’t have anyone to talk to at the hospital. He was there with six and seven-year-olds. He put together this group [i[2]y] for young adults and teens. It’s a social networking thing with ‘Stupid Cancer Happy Hours’ and shows, where you come and talk about your experience. Your friends are going to parties and they don’t know what you’re going through. Zachary called me the ‘poster child for survivorship.’

How do you feel about that? Do you like being identified that way?

It’s a great thing to be recognized for that. I think when I talk to people I can create a relationship that isn’t just about cancer. They’ll know that’s not what I’m all about.

Are you thinking about life after high school?

After this experience, I’d love to go into communications. I love presenting and public speaking. I’d love to work with patients, too. This summer I’m going to work at the playroom at Sloan Kettering. I love politics. My research topic this year is, ‘Are People Ready for a Woman President?’

Is Hillary Clinton your candidate?

Not necessarily. I haven’t done enough research yet. I’m so excited because I can vote in this election. I’m also thinking about organizing a young voter promotion project. Not just to vote, but to know who they’re voting for and why.

Do you see yourself running for office someday?

I honestly would love to do something like that. That’s another path in life I could take. I have a lot of interests. I love sports. I love the New York Rangers. I know all the players’ names and numbers.

What would be the best thing that could happen as a result of Wednesday’s event?

I hope it will sell out, raise awareness and raise money. My goal is to raise $20,000. The tickets are selling faster than I thought. We’ve sold 350, and have 400 left.

What do you remember about having cancer?

I was living in the city at the time. I honestly don’t remember any of it. I’ll look through pictures and see food and aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins. It was a party every day. It brought us all together. I was never alone. When I go back to the hospital, I’ll see kids walking around with IVs and kids with no hair and I’ll have a flashback, but it will go away. It makes me realize how fortunate I am. It’s painful to see those kids.

Some people in your situation might just be glad it’s over and want to forget all about it.

I know people who do just move on and say, ‘I’m just going to keep living and not do anything about it.’ But I’m the kind of person who can’t really let go, because I feel so fortunate to have survived and I want to do everything I can to promote survivorship. Some people say, ‘Why me? This is not fair. Woe is me.’ If it helps them, great, but I’ve always preferred getting people to fight in a positive way. It helps to talk to others affected by cancer instead of going through it alone.

What bothers you?

Stubborn people bother me. If they can’t see the alternative, I want to help them refocus. I do peer leadership, and if they’re stubborn and not willing to see the other side, I’ll talk it through and ask them what they think. Not to convince them but just to get them to see it.

What has been the reaction at school to kids learning about your cancer?

Coming out of the closet is what I’m doing. It was hard for me to talk about it publicly at first, because when you meet people, you can’t bring it up in ordinary conversation. It wasn’t that I wasn’t willing to talk about it, but there was no opportunity to. I wouldn’t advertise it. But now I feel, why not say I’m a leukemia survivor and promote that?

Do people see you any differently now?

I was wondering that myself. I think people are beginning to realize that I am the way I am because of the cancer. I’ve always been a motivated person who’s wanted to live life and do well. I think of myself as here for a reason. It’s given true meaning to my life even before I started advertising it.

What happens after this?

The president of the Kid’s Care Junior Board at the Valerie Center at Monmouth Medical, Victoria Slater, who’s a sophomore at Red Bank Catholic, invited me to be on the board starting in January. They work with the patients and have fundraisers. They raised $34,000 in July. I’m so excited because I can continue on and it won’t just be a one-time thing. I’d love to make CancerCrusher night an annual event.

Interview conducted, condensed and edited by Linda G. Rastelli.

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