Inspiring Colorado Mom Crosses the Finish Line

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Nine months after Gil Schaenzle lost her only child, 21-year-old daughter Anna Rose, to neuroendocrine (NET) cancer, the same complicated disease that recently ended the life of Aretha Franklin, Gil carried on with her and her daughter’s mission and ran in 50 national parks across the United States. The demanding pursuit in honor of Anna was designed to raise awareness to an often times misdiagnosed form of cancer.  Clutching Anna’s teddy bear throughout every run, Gil crossed the finish line last month for the final time at Denver’s Rocky Mountain National Park – the same national park where she and husband Fred used to take Anna as a small child.

Nine months became a significant measure in Gil’s life; she carried Anna for nine months, Anna’s illness was nine months from diagnosis to her passing, and Gil carried out the National Park Run in nine months time.

Gil says, “This challenge didn’t heal me, but the hope that we might use our grief to help save another life is what kept me going. Anna was so strong and fearless and I think we all need to be warriors like her.”

Gil Schaenzle and Anna Rose

Gil and Anna at Grand Canyon National Park, the last national park Anna visited

Recently the need for awareness for Neuroendocrine (NET) cancer was heightened with the passing of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul.  Franklin’s physician, Dr. Philip A. Philip, confirmed her correct diagnosis — pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, commonly referred to as pNETs. Many media outlets reported “pancreatic cancer” when as Dr. Philip stated, “The only thing they have in common is they both arise from the pancreas.”  When the media does not get it right in the case of a beloved well known public icon, it can have a serious impact on the diagnosed and undiagnosed patient. Neuroendrocrine (NET) cancer is also the same cancer that took the life of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and it was recently announced that Bollywood movie star Irrfan Khan (“Life of Pi” and “Slumdog Millionaire”) had been diagnosed with the same illness.

Gil’s National Park runs helped raise over $12,000 in donations for the Healing NET Foundation to bring education and awareness to medical providers, patients, and caregivers. She’s had numerous opportunities along the way to create awareness about NET cancer in the general population and inspire NET patients, families and friends!  Gil shares, “I received an email from a man who heard my story, and as a result his doctors finally confirmed he had neuroendocrine tumors after months of inconclusive tests and uncertainty. Current statistics show an average of five to six years before patients get a correct diagnosis, and the fact that my journey made a difference in at least one life is worth all the miles.”

Gil and Fred Schaenzle

Gil’s husband and Anna Rose’s father, Fred Schaenzle, at the finish line on her final run in Rocky Mountain National Park in Denver, Colorado

Gil accumulated 42,000 miles as she traveled across 35 states, and completed 350 miles on foot in 50 National Parks, along with 12 National Monuments and 2 National Preserves. Read Gil’s chronicles of her journey here and find further information at www.thehealingnet.org.

In her own words:  My name is Gilberta Schaenzle, but everyone calls me Gil.  I grew up on a large cattle and sheep ranch in South Dakota.  Aside from my first 17 years, most of my life has been spent in Colorado.  It was in Boulder, CO where I met my wonderful husband, Fred. We just had our 26th anniversary.  We live in a little mountain town in Colorado called Evergreen.
I was in Electrical Engineering until our beautiful daughter, Anna Rose was born in 1996.  It was then that I took on the most wonderful job in the world…Anna’s mom.  Anna was the whole package…intelligent, beautiful, and athletic.  She had a big heart and was generous.  I always felt humbled that God had chosen me to be her mom. 
In addition to being Anna’s mom, I was also team mom to various volleyball teams.  I love that many of the girls still call me Momma Gil. In addition to being a ‘momma’ I like to travel, cook, run, ski, hike, do photography and I make custom handmade books and social invitations.
Supporters and friends can learn more at The Healing NET Foundation.  Read Gil’s blog National Park Run for Anna Rose and NET Cancer and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.  

The Healing NET Foundation is a nonprofit organization focused on providing NET educational resources and fostering collaboration among NET experts to improve patient care. The organization educates physicians and other healthcare professionals, patients and their caregivers, optimizing care for those with neuroendocrine tumors and cancers. 
To learn more, please visit www.thehealingnet.org.
Phil Keeling

Phil Keeling is an Atlanta-based writer and comedian. His work has been featured in Five Out Of Ten Magazine, The South, and All Roads Magazine. His plays have been performed at the 13th Street Repertory and Theatre by the Grove.

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