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September 10th, 2012|
On a daily basis, I am privileged to meet wonderful people. Penny Lancaster can only be described as an extraordinary female runner. She has had an impact on not only my running but my life. Penny has graciously agreed to share her story and goal of completing her 51st marathon by the age of 60, which will be the upcoming Fox Cities Marathon later this month.
Penny did not start running until her mid to late 30s. She ran her first 5k in 1989. The marathon bug bit her that same year when she happened to be a spectator at the Twin Cities Marathon. Marathoning started with “the goal…to run and complete just one marathon so we could say we did it!”
From that initial race in 1989, Penny has completed countless 5ks, 10ks and half marathons, and 50 full marathons. When asked about her most memorable races, it is evident what a vital role her family and especially husband Larry have had on her running and enjoyment of life. In Big Sur (1995), she ran in honor of her father who had passed away. “I headed up one of the toughest hills of the course, praying to my dad every step of the way to help me up that hill. The clouds opened up, and for just those few minutes, the sun came out.” During Penny’s St. George, Utah, (1998) marathon, her best friend was running a “sympathy run” at home and her friend suffered a brain aneurysm and survived. At Kiawah Island (2001), Larry could bike the entire distance. Other races that stood out where those that qualified for Boston: Twin Cities Marathon (1993) and Last Chance for Boston (2003) “which was a 1-mile course, 26-plus times” around. She completed the Boston Marathon (1994 and 2004) twice.
“Every marathon made for its own memories and seemed to come with a story. To keep each marathon memory alive, I framed all my medals along with the finishing picture and had a king-sized quilt made using the logos from the finisher’s T-shirts.”
Penny has completed 20 of the 50 marathons since her cancer diagnosis in June 2000. She ran Humpy’s Marathon Alaska (2000) “the year I was diagnosed with cancer. I was diagnosed June 21, 2000, met with my oncologist a couple of weeks after all the tests were complete. He told me I had NonHodgkin’s lymphoma. I told him I had to run a marathon. We agreed on one week of chemo before we left town and on August 10, I was running Humpy’s marathon. I fell a few miles into the race, but finished the marathon.” Penny and Larry then cruised around Alaska with a sling and pain pills, but continued to “thoroughly enjoy the cruise.” On arriving home she found out she had torn her rotator cuff and had surgery soon after.
Penny relates that in the past, obstacles to her running were in her head. Since June 2000, and a diagnosis of cancer, she would “encounter more ‘legitimate’ obstacles. When you hear the word ‘cancer,’ it seems like your whole world changes, along with the life of your entire family. Cancer most definitely affects everyone and the obstacles are such that you think you’ll never overcome them.”
Penny’s family and strong faith supported her during and after her diagnosis. “Running turned into a huge outlet for me to be able to get out and run, breathe the fresh air, and allow me to deal with the pain, stress and anxiety of the diagnosis, and pray as I ran. It was, for me, a great time to spend with God. There were times I would run just to prove a point; cancer was NOT going to keep me down. Call it determination, call it fight, or call it unwillingness to face reality, but I was out to make it clear that cancer was not going to win this race.”
Penny’s cancer journey took her up and down many hills and valleys. After her initial diagnosis in 2000, she went into remission, but in December 2002, the cancer was evident on tests again. In September 2004, she began having problems with swallowing, breathing, headaches, raspy voice. A mass of cancer was found in her chest, pressing on her esophagus, windpipe, arteries, lungs and heart. “During all this time, I kept on running because that is what I would do to keep my spirits up, but little did I know that I could have had a stroke!” She underwent an autologous stem cell transplant (using her own stem cells) on Jan. 19, 2005. It was a success, and her first question was “when can I start running again?”
Nine months later, October 2005, she ran a full marathon in Spokane, Wash. “As a side note, since I had already paid the registration fee in 2004 thinking I was going to run it then, I requested a deferment, keeping me focused on starting my training as soon as the doctor gave the OK. After all, who wants to lose out on an already paid in full entry fee? Yes, the obstacles were many, but I never gave up.”
The cancer returned again June 2006. She was treated with chemotherapy and then required maintance chemotherapy starting in December 2006. In January 2008, Penny found a lump in her leg, requiring an allogeneic stem cell transplant (using donor cells). “On May 28, 2008, the day after he [her brother] harvested 24 million of his stem cells for me, I was being infused with 8 million of those cells to save my life. That in and by itself is a story, but today, four-plus years later, I am doing great; I am back to running and enjoying life with Larry and the rest of my family and friends thanks to my hero, my brother, Tim Schwartzkopf.”
Several other medical issues have come up for Penny. In February 2011, she was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. In June 2011 she had much-needed back surgery, a fusion of three levels of vertebrae, and reconstruction of her spinal canal. She walked “the September 2011 Fox Cities Half Marathon with rods and pins in place, and a ‘clamshell’ strapped around my mid-section.”
Penny has had many obstacles over the years, but her view on running and life are inspirational. She feels that “I did what anyone else would do if put in my position. Keep fighting; and maybe those obstacles don’t always get completely knocked down, but it sure is possible, with hard work and determination, to push them aside and move on. I’d rather think of them as challenges because to me it sounds better that I am challenging myself rather than allowing obstacles to get in my way. It comes down to the choices [that] you make. I’ve won the minute I decide to take on the challenge and accomplish it. I’ve won at life!”
Training for this 51st marathon, Penny works at maintaining the half-marathon distance. She enjoys heading out of her front door with Larry by her side on his bike. He is her “pit crew, protector, and supporter all wrapped into one, carrying and handing me food/or water each time I stop to walk. When he had major heart surgery (2006) – the one year I was healthy enough to take care of him for a change – I was faced with running alone. It just didn’t seem right and I felt lost without him. We both pushed his doctor to allow him back on the bike. We are quite the odd couple to want to rush back into exercising.” She runs with music and “there is always a reason for why and when a battery dies. The silence makes room for a word or two with God.” She runs all seasons.
Penny does have some restrictions to consider: 1) needing to stay out of the sun to prevent graft vs host disease, and 2) allowing adequate time recovering from long runs/pacing self. “Completing a run today is a blessing, somewhat of a miracle, and most definitely brings more rewards and joy when I finish. My glory days are here and now, doing what I’m doing after all I’ve been through. That means way more to me than 4-5 marathons a year”
On race day, her wardrobe includes a locket with a lucky penny from her birth year and several charms as reminders her of family, friends and her beliefs. When she starts to hit the wall at about mile 23, she starts thinking ,“only a 5K to go; you can do it! What’s a little 5K; you can do it!!” She has that little inner voice that “keeps pushing and telling me this is nothing compared to what I’ve been through, so I keep picking my feet up moving slowly yet closer to the finish line. What gets me finally to the line is the fact that I know Larry will be there, waiting patiently as he always has, smiling, shouting my name and cheering me on proudly as I take those final steps into the finish.”
If you see a petite, redhead stopping and giving a gentleman a good luck hug and kiss along the marathon route, it’s Penny and Larry. Wish them well and cheer her on toward the finish line.
Here are Penny’s words of advice for not only runners but all of us: “Live and run with perseverance the race you have been given. Perseverance is about pushing through tough times and hard places, making yourself do what you don’t feel like doing. It means you don’t quit before you’re done, whatever it is you set out to do. Never give up. Learn to persevere through the obstacles. Lean on your friends and family for support. Never stop praying and always keep the faith. Try to remain as positive as you can. If you run, don’t stop running. You may run slower and for shorter distances, but don’t hang up your running shoes. For me, my running shoes turned out to be the best medicine I could have received. Life truly can go on during and after cancer, or any other major setback in life. You just need to believe that!!”
Teresa L. Iattoni received her bachelor’s degree in anatomy and physiology and a master’s degree in physical therapy from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich. She holds basic and advanced certification in Leduc Method Lymphedema Management. For more information visit: www.thedacareorthoplus.org or call 920-831-5050.
As the Fox Cities Marathon half marathon sponsor, ThedaCare Orthopedics Plus is proud to offer a Free Injury Assessment Clinic every Tuesday until the Fox Cities Marathon, noon – 1 p.m. The free injury clinic is open to all participants in the Community First Fox Cities Marathon races (including full marathon, half marathon or 5K). ThedaCare Orthopedics Plus’ sports medicine team of licensed athletic trainers, physical therapists or sports medicine physicians will be available to assess injuries and provide recommendations to help you continue or return to running safely. No appointment needed. Visit ThedaCare Orthopedics Plus, Appleton Medical Center, 820 E. Grant Street, Appleton, Tuesdays, noon – 1 p.m. For directions, see: www.thedacareorthoplus.org.ShareThis