Survivor shares shimmer of light


Penny Spangler

JASPER — My family was growing, life was good and busy…spinning like a top

When a roadblock was thrown at me and God told me to “STOP!”

It started with a routine check ~ the doctor’s saying “Oh, it’s just a spot”

"It could be cancer in your breast ~ but then ~ it’s probably not.”

But cancer was found when tests were done, so prayers were said and through tears we began our wait.

Praise the Lord ~ another miracle ~ the cancer was removed and doctors said I was going to be just great.

Penny Spangler of Jasper wrote these words in 1993, in a poem recounting 40 years of miracles in her life. God guided her to her husband, Tom. He brought her two children, Amy Lynn and Thomas Andrew. And he guided her through two battles with breast cancer.

Penny, 68, now uses her experiences to encourage women to undergo annual mammogram screenings and lift up others who are fighting cancer.

“Yes, mammograms are worth it,” stressed Penny, who worked as a first grade teacher’s assistant at Fifth Street Elementary in Jasper for 23 years. “And if you have it (breast cancer), just hang in there and press on and press on and press on. You have to. You just have to keep moving forward every day.”

She was initially diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991 at the age of 39. Doctors discovered the lump on her chest wall after her first ever mammogram, and the diagnosis came after a biopsy. The cancer was in stage one.

Penny underwent a lumpectomy that removed lymph nodes from under her arm. With precaution, she also received chemotherapy and radiation treatments that sapped her body of energy.

God was with her every step of the way, she said. And so was her good sense of humor. After her hair fell out, she dressed up as Uncle Fester — the bald member of the fictional Addams family — on Halloween. When she opened the oven on Thanksgiving to pull out the turkey the wave of heat melted her wig.

“We all started laughing,” Penny recalled. “And it just all went down on my head. So that was just funny.”

She went into remission for more than two decades. In October 2014, the cancer came back — this time in stage zero. Doctors explained what that meant by showing her the x-rays of her chest. Across it were many tiny white flecks; they were tumors waiting to attach and grow.

Penny had a mastectomy and breast reduction surgeries, re-entered remission and has been cancer-free ever since. In public speeches, she encourages those listening to speak boldly to the women in their lives and encourage them to get a yearly mammogram. She urges those who have been diagnosed with cancer to keep fighting and lean on a support system while doing so. And she tells them to lovingly remember all those who have lost their fights.

Penny feels passionately about speaking out and sharing her story.

“Because I know I went through it, I conquered it,” she said. “And if my words can be even a little shimmer of light for a person going through it ... you could be in a whole room of darkness, but if you light that one little light, that’s what you see.”

Penny and Tom are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary today.

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