Mike Terry, Deseret News
McKenzie Houghton of Lehi, left, and fellow cancer survivor Lisa Anderson, center, are honored before the Utah High School State Rodeo Finals.

McKenzie Houghton isn't necessarily a defiant teenager.

But when her doctors advised her what to avoid after her bone marrow transplant last month, she knew there was one item on the list she couldn't do without.

"My doctors treat rodeo like the plague," said the Lehi High graduate, who was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma her junior year, only to have it return this past winter. "They said absolutely no rodeo."

It's the dust, which may carry bacteria from animal feces, that scares the doctors. They explained the danger of most anything and everything to her weakened immune system.

"It's been hard to have to limit myself," she said. "I'm going to go anyway because it's my thing. Summers are about rodeo."

Houghton has only defied her doctors' orders twice, most recently making a trip to the forbidden rodeo grounds in Heber City on Saturday night.

The 18-year-old stood in the arena of the Wasatch County Fairgrounds, an arena where she was supposed to compete in breakaway roping, with surgical mask in hand.

She was not accepting a belt buckle for her roping skills, but checks that people who have never met her hope will help cover her medical costs.

Her rodeo friends all wore green ribbons bearing her name on their bib numbers, and the members of the Lehi Rodeo Club presented her with $600 they'd earned in various fundraisers on her behalf. Before the state finals began, state high school rodeo officials presented Houghton with a check for $10,000, which was raised earlier in the week when officials auctioned off a pink guitar donated by Reams and autographed by George Straight. It was purchased by Jewell Creigh, reportedly the proud grandmother of another contestant, for $9,500, and she threw in an extra $500 for the young woman who said she appreciates the sentiment, the help and the support.

"I don't know what to say," she said afterward, her soft brown eyes looking around the park. "It's overwhelming."

Houghton took up breakaway roping just a year ago because her best friend, Jessica Johnson, participated in the rodeo club at Lehi High. She borrowed her friend's horse and qualified for the state finals in breakaway roping in her first rodeo last fall.

"I loved it," she said of participating. "I just love riding horses and being outdoors."

She rodeoed in the fall, and then in February she got the bad news. The lymphoma that doctors had detected in her neck when she was just 16 had returned.

"I didn't really understand what was going to go on," she said of how the news affected her. "I was still planning on participating in state until May, when they told me about the problems of dust."

It's not just dust she has to avoid. The former softball player said she has to avoid watermelon, peaches and her favorite fruit, strawberries.

"In the hospital, I had to have the first of everything," she said. "If I had a sandwich, they had to open a new loaf of bread."

She doesn't know how she might have done in the state finals, but she was grateful for the chance to sit in the sunshine with her friends and watch it from the stands.

"It was really good just to be at the rodeo," said Houghton, who will start radiation next week. "(Being sick) changed my perspective a lot."

Two lessons, she said, she will always carry with her.

"Your attitude is everything," she said. "And there is a lot worse things that what you have."

And while lymphoma may have shifted her perspective and deprived her of a few things, it has not deterred her from continuing on with her life's plans. After radiation, she'll be attending cosmetology school in American Fork — and, I'm sure, sampling everything on the do not do list, including attending rodeos and eating strawberries.

No, I don't think even

McKenzie Houghton's doctors would define the soft-spoken teenager as defiant.

More like determined to enjoy life — dust and all.


E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com