Losing a child to cancer is a heartbreak no parent should ever have to endure. Yet sadly, it’s one 61-year-old Gil Schaenzle knows all too well. When her daughter Anna Rose died of neuroendocrine cancer at just 21 years old last year, Gil’s world was forever changed. But it wasn’t long before she decided to honor her daughter’s life in a meaningful way, by running the 50-park national challenge.
Soon after, she put on her sneakers and started running.
Gil tells Babble that the challenge was a bucket list run she’d been planning to make with Anna before she passed away.
“I had brought her home from chemo one day and she couldn’t stop vomiting and was miserably sick,” Gil recalls. “I was snuggling her and thought it might give her something to look forward to if I shared my crazy idea with her. So I told her about it and asked if she would like to drive the sag vehicle for me when she was feeling better. She said ‘No.’ I was just a little hurt by the turndown, and asked her why? She replied that she was going to run them all with me. There was so much resolve in her voice, that I didn’t doubt that she would.”
After Anna passed away, Gil began trying to make her idea of running 50 national parks come to fruition.
“When Anna died it just kept eating at me through the immense grief and sorrow that we didn’t get to do our national park run,” Gil tells Babble, “ … and then I had a crazier thought: What if this could be used to bring awareness to this insidious cancer?”
Gil approached Dr. Eric Liu, Anna’s surgeon, who not only thought it was a great idea, but also helped connect the grieving mom to Cindy Lovelace, CEO of The Healing NET Foundation.
On November 10, 2017, National NET Cancer Awareness Day, Gil began her epic journey with her first run through Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Over the course of the next few months, she would run 5Ks and half marathons all over the country. Her final run came earlier this month on August 4, at Denver’s Rocky Mountain National Park.
Though her story highlights the incredible endurance of the human spirit, Gil admits this experience hasn’t quite healed her.
“I know people want so badly to know I’m going to be all better now [and] healed by the journey, but that hasn’t happened,” Gil shares with Babble. “I still miss her with every single breath. I still cry every day because I will never hold her again. When you lose a child, every ounce of strength you thought you had, vaporizes.”
For families with children battling cancer or other serious illnesses, Gil says to be as open as you can with your kids about the experience.
“Kids are smarter and more mature than we give them credit for,” she shares. “Don’t tell them it’s going to be OK, when they know it isn’t. Having their parent lie to them in a stressful time doesn’t make them feel better. Oddly enough, most kids are worried about their parents being ok when they are gone.”
For this devoted mom, her daughter Anna will always be on her mind — and in her heart.
“One day [after her death] I was driving Anna’s car and felt so sad that she wasn’t there,” Gil shares. “I was [talking aloud], telling her how much Daddy and I loved her and just missed her horribly. From the passenger seat came the almost audible, exasperated voice of my daughter; ‘Mom! I’m right here!’”
Congrats to Gil Schaenzle on completing her inspiring 50-park challenge run — and for raising more awareness of a disease that claims far too many lives each year.More On