Cindy Patzner and Ken Penfield have both lived in Waunakee for many years. Patzner is a realtor, and Penfield, a teacher at Heritage Elementary School. Both have lived through cancer, and at the June 21 Relay for Life, they’ll share their stories as the honorary chairs.
The Waunakee Relay for Life: WaunaCure will be at Ripp Park at 6 p.m. that evening with opening ceremonies at 7 p.m. when local residents will raise money for the American Cancer Society.
The honorary chairs both share their survival stories, as both were diagnosed with cancer at different points of their lives.
Penfield was in his late 20s when playing softball, he felt he may have injured himself on the field. The diagnosis of testicular cancer was followed by surgery, but afterwards, the markers for cancer shot up.
Doctors said it was inoperable, and his lymph nodes would need to be removed. He was just 29, and he remembers the nurse, when receiving results of his initial test, tearing up as she read them before telling him he would need to talk to the doctor.
After the two surgeries, Penfield began a four-month regimen of chemotherapy. His doctor told him they would need to get the cancer and kill every other cell, so it didn’t return.
“I was heartbroken,” he said.
Chemotherapy affected his overall attitude.
“I was a jerk,” he said about his mental state. He slept a lot through those four months, has trouble remembering parts of it, and even today, 22 years later, the treatment has left its mark. He has partial hearing loss in one of his ears, occasional tingling in his hands and less tolerance for hot and cold temperatures.
It seems for Penfield, cancer is like a ghost. A random ache or pain raises the possibility of its return.
But more than two decades later, Penfield is thankful to be alive and to help others whose lives are affected by cancer. He’s participated in Relay for Life events both in Mauston and Waunakee ever since.
“The Relay, it’s always been there. It’s a support group,” Penfield said.
“Don’t give up,” will be his message at the Waunakee Relay for Life event, he said.
His battle with cancer was no picnic.
“There were days when I was positive, and other days I was [angry],” he said, remembering at one point, he was unsure if he could endure his last two chemotherapy treatments, but his father encouraged him, cautioning him to never give up.
“My mom said there’s a reason you’re here,” Penfield added, saying she reminded him that he was born premature.
“Do what you can with a second chance,” Penfield said.
Patzner was in her late 40s when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma a year ago in May. She and her husband had gotten over a cold or flu, but afterwards, her lymph nodes continued to be swollen. She thought something was amiss with her thyroid, but biopsies revealed Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Patzner remembers getting the diagnosis while driving, and her doctor saying she would soon find out what stage it was in.
“She said, ‘If you’re going to get cancer, this is a good one to get. It’s one of the most curable kinds,’” Patzner said.
Patzner said telling her husband and children was most difficult.
Her sons, who are now 17 and 19, were not home.
“I put my head on the [kitchen] island, and I cried and cried,” Patzner said. “I could not tell him I had cancer and what it was. Finally I got it out, and he said, ‘You’re going to get through this.’”
A PET scan revealed Patzner’s cancer was only at stage 2, also a relief.
“I wasn’t about getting a second opinion. I was just like, let’s do this,” she said.
She started chemotherapy four hours, every two weeks for 12 treatments in all. That ended in January.
The chemotherapy treatment still occupies a distinct place in their minds. The odor of rubbing alcohol or even the term for the treatment, trigger nausea to this day.
Both remember losing their hair. But both survived.
“It’s a journey,” Patzner said, and that will be her message at Waunakee’s Relay for Life. “I’ve learned to just breathe.”
Her experience has also led her change her diet, opting for more organic fresh fruit and vegetables, and to avoid chemicals, both in foods and products.
“Really watch what you’re putting in your body and on your body,” Patzner said.
For both Penfield and Patzner, survival is a gift.
“I’m just so happy to be alive and to get that second chance, too,” Patzner said.
Patzner will turn 50 on June 22, the day after the Relay, and to mark the occasion, she hopes to raise $5,000 for the American Cancer Society. She has a Facebook page set up, Cindy’s Relay for Life, and is collecting donations.