Mackenzie Lincoln, junior in accounting and member of the Kansas State Classy Cats, started having eye problems in April, but went to study abroad in Ireland during summer break anyway. When she returned, Lincoln said her mom noticed her eyes were constantly shaking.
“I went to a new eye doctor, and after about 15 minutes of an examination, he left to make a phone call,” Lincoln said. “When he came back, he asked me if I was on drugs.”
The cause of Lincoln’s eye rotations were not drugs. Lincoln was suffering from nystagmus, a condition of involuntary eye movement, but her state of nystagmus was unusual by normal standards.
“Usually if you have nystagmus, your eyes rotate either up and down, or left and right,” Lincoln said. “Mine were rotating in opposite directions, and they’d never seen anything like that before.”
Lincoln’s doctor suggested an immediate MRI exam, which showed a brain tumor and a cyst attached to her brain stem.
“The doctors were surprised that I could even walk, have balance or have any function left in my face,” Lincoln said.
The news shook Lincoln’s friends, family and teammates. Maddison Downard, senior in elementary education and fellow Classy Cat, said she was shocked by the news, but inspired by Lincoln’s positive spirit.
“The whole team is amazed at the amount of strength and determination she has,” Downard said. “She is the most inspiring gal I know.”
Further testing revealed that these were not new growths, and had been developing in Lincoln’s head for over a decade.
“The tumor and cyst had been there for over 10 years, and I could have had a stroke or gone into a coma at any point,” Lincoln said. “It was crazy to think that the weekend before, I’d been at practice dancing for the Classy Cats.”
Lincoln immediately went into surgery and 99 percent of the tumor and growth were successfully removed.
“They weren’t able to get the last part, which is still attached to my brain stem and still growing, ” Lincoln said. “But I was only in the hospital for six days. I was released to do activity three weeks ago and started dancing, and returned to school on time.”
A step back
Lincoln’s homecoming was short-lived, however. As she prepared to return to the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium by the season’s first home game, one of Lincoln’s incisions filled with fluid, demanding immediate medical attention.
“They went back in for a second procedure,” Lincoln said. “A dissolvable stitch from the previous surgery did not heal correctly, and spinal fluid was leaking out of it. This was another thing my doctor said he’d never seen before. This past Friday (Sept. 9), my incision ripped open and was leaking outward.”
The higher risk for infection after the incision from her second procedure ripped open prompted Lincoln to drop her current on-campus classes, and exclusively take online courses from home in Topeka.
“I’m at such a high risk for infection right now that I needed to be at home,” Lincoln said. “I’ve been having to miss so many of my classes. It has been hard to balance classes while being on narcotics, anesthesia and just being so tired that I couldn’t study.”
Lindsey Farmer, junior in education, said she caught wind of Lincoln’s story, and was impressed by her ability to continue her education in the midst of the medical procedures.
“Personally I would feel defeated if I were in her shoes,” Farmer said. “I wouldn’t know how to balance anything in my life. There are some very strong young men and women at this university who can handle these sorts of things, and she is one of them.”
Lincoln said she looks forward to possibly returning to dance with the Classy Cats by the third home game on Oct. 8. She said her dance team is a source of support and reassurance during this unusual period of her life.
“The Classy Cats have been very supportive,” Lincoln said. “They’ve been very understanding and they want me to get back just as much as I want to get back.”
Lincoln is still a dedicated member of both the Classy Cats and Pi Beta Phi despite the current state of her health and distance from campus.
“I personally feel like I’m letting my team down by not being there,” Lincoln said. “They’ve been doing a really good job of making me not feel that way. The same can definitely be said about my sorority. They’ve driven me on days that I couldn’t drive, made me feel included when I was far out of the way and even driven to Topeka to just hang out with me.”
Lincoln says the support from her friends and family has been helpful, but she’s also found significant guidance from her faith.
“Sometimes I feel very alone going through all of this, but just seeing the real power of prayer has been incredible,” Lincoln said. “I couldn’t have gotten through this without my faith. So far, everything that could’ve gone right, did, and I am very blessed in these ways.”
Lincoln is optimistic about the situation, and said she looks forward to eventually returning to the normalcy of being a student, a privilege she said is often taken for granted.
“A lot of the time as college students, we complain so much about not wanting to attend class and do these simple things, and now, these are what I want to be able to do more than anything,” Lincoln said.