(I learned) life is fragile, that we just have so much time to give. We just don't have all the time to do all the things we need to do. —Mac Boyter

PROVO — A Utah County charity founder is a finalist in a national contest to showcase those who are making a difference around the country.

Mac Boyter certainly qualifies for the America Inspired contest that could earn him $50,000.

The 70-year-old founded Children with Cancer Christmas Foundation after he was diagnosed with the devastating disease himself.

Boyter can still clearly remember the Thursday in 1991 when he went to see his doctor after feeling pressure in his chest. "When they did a scan on me, they found my heart was about twice the size it should be," he recalled.

After surgery, Boyter was told that pressure was due from the one word we all dread. "He said, 'Mac, you have cancer,' " Boyter said.

It was non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and a tumor had grown into his heart and lungs. Following chemotherapy, the then-49-year-old Provo car salesman was told to get his affairs in order.

"(I learned) life is fragile, that we just have so much time to give," Boyter said. "We just don't have all the time to do all the things we need to do."

Three years later, his cancer was in remission and Boyter decided it was time to do those things he needed to do. In 1997, he founded the Children with Cancer Christmas Foundation to offer support to dozens of children battling cancer in Utah County.

"The really critical thing is the children, and not just the child struggling with cancer. It's the entire family," Boyter said.

The Hutchings family is among those that have benefited from Boyter's foundation. Their son Jacob was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

"Mac has provided a foundation, in a way, for us to not feel so alone, for us to have reason to get up and go," said Janice Hutchings, Jacob's mother.

They go to the foundation's Christmas party each year, receiving gifts and reassurance. BYU's basketball team has also played a key role in the annual party since Day One.

"Boyter truly is an angel in the family's lives and in all of ours that are volunteers," said Raquel Jex, who volunteers with the Christmas Foundation. "You can't help but love him."

And Boyter loves the children. He knows what they're feeling and can relate to the families' pain as well.

"It's the little mom who lays awake at night when it's dark and quiet and cries herself to sleep, frightened because she doesn't know what's gonna happen to this little loved one. The father who feels somewhat helpless," Boyter said.

"It's hurtful to see the children who struggle. It's hurtful to see the scars. It's hurtful, sometimes, to see the blindness or the inability to walk, or the whatever. That's a painful thing," Boyter said. "By the same token, it's a wonderful thing to see them come back another year."

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The Children with Cancer Christmas Foundation has helped more than a 1,000 families affected by cancer.

Boyter and four others are in the running to win $50,000 in the America Inspired contest.

The nominee with the most votes will take home the grand prize, and the other four will win $10,000.

Email: kaiken@desnews.com