LACEY — It has been a long four years for McKenzy Hupke, who has spent most of her time as a teenager battling obstacle after obstacle, but never losing sight of the gifts she has to offer the world — especially in her home state.

In 2013, she began having frequent nosebleeds, and after repeated visits to the emergency room, doctors eventually found a mass in her nose. That was ruled to be a benign tumor, which was removed, but reoccurrences began soon after, both in her nose and ears. Those were so severe that Hupke began to lose her hearing, and in June 2014 she had surgery to have part of her inner ear taken out.

By the end of 2014, doctors discovered cancerous nodules in her lungs, and Hupke was diagnosed on March 19, 2015 with squamous cell carcinoma.

For this bright young woman, now a senior at the Ocean County Vocational Technical School Performing Arts Academy in Lakehurst, undergoing chemotherapy, radiation, a series of surgeries, and the implantation of hearing aids might have derailed her dreams of being a stage performer. Yet all that has had exactly the opposite effect.

Hupke continues to shine onstage, in community theater and off-Broadway productions, and off. It is her work in a non-professional capacity that earned her the Survivor of the Year award at the annual Tides of Change Gala, held last Friday night in Farmingdale to benefit the American Cancer Society.

To raise awareness for pediatric cancer, for which she said research is not as well-funded as one might expect, Hupke participates with several cancer foundations in Monmouth and Ocean counties. This summer, she'll also be a counselor-in-training at a camp that caters to kids with cancer.

"(It's) really exciting for me, because I really like helping more than I want the attention on me," she said.

At these personal appearances, Hupke's signature performance is a special arrangement of "Fight Song" by Rachel Platten, but she wrote and sang an original piece for the Tides of Change Gala.

"To get the chance to sing that in front of tons of people at such a big event like this is amazing," Hupke said.

Now 18, Hupke is currently in active treatment with immunotherapy, and responding well. She said she takes things day-to-day, and as last weekend proved, she continues to share her talents when and where she can.

"It's not holding me back," she said.

Patrick Lavery produces "New Jersey's First News" and is New Jersey 101.5's morning drive breaking news reporter. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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