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A Mother’s Love Runs Strong – A story of love, loss and inspiration

Featured in the July 2019 edition of Colorado Serenity magazine

It’s hard to summarize Anna Rose Schaenzle in just a few words. The Evergreen High School graduate accumulated a long list of accomplishments in her short life. She played golf, volleyball and ran track. As a college student, she carved an academic niche on the Dean’s list. She loved adventure and the outdoors. However, what made Anna Rose truly special wasn’t what she did – it was who she was.

Anna Rose Schaenzle

“She was our life, our joy, our hearts,” explains Gil Schaenzle, 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.”

The first signs that something might be wrong appeared in January 2016. Anna couldn’t feel her legs when she ran. Then, her legs started turning grey. The Schaenzles turned to a vascular surgeon for help. He diagnosed Anna with a rare condition called “Popliteal Artery Entrapment’ in both her legs and recommended they find an expert.

Wanting only the best for their only child, the Schaenzles traveled across the country to have the head of the Vascular Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore perform the surgeries. In June 2016, after two surgeries and a month-long stay at the hospital, the Schaenzles headed back to Evergreen believing the worst was behind them. Just to be safe, Gil scheduled a check-up appointment with Anna’s doctor.

“He did some blood work and he called the next day and said ‘I think the lab messed up. This can’t be right, but I’m going to send you to a specialist in Denver.’”

The endocrinologist repeated the tests. The results confirmed the heartbreaking diagnosis that Anna had Stage IV Neuroendocrine Cancer. Scans revealed that Anna had tumors on her adrenal gland, spleen, liver and lungs.

Gil and Anna during a hospital stay

Always a warrior, Anna Rose fought bravely against the insidious disease. She underwent a 10-hour surgery to remove 10 pounds of tumors from her abdomen followed by intense rounds of the meanest chemotherapy drugs available.

“We were told that it wasn’t working and what did we want to do and that was a really tough, tough day, talk about having your heart ripped out,” said Gil. “So I had to call Mount Evans Hospice and I said, ‘You know that order for palliative care, can you change that to hospice? And they were so wonderful. They came out and just took care of us.”

Mount Evans Chaplain Nancy Nelson was part of the team that cared for the Schaenzle family. “I just remember two people that were holding probably the most sorrow that I have ever seen in my life, but they were loving and they were committed to seeing their daughter through this time. When the nurse practitioner and I left, we sat in the car and cried for a long time after meeting them, but it was a loving, peaceful place.”

Anna Rose Schaenzle lost her battle with cancer on March 26, 2017.

“They took the most horrible experience in the world and made us feel cared for, loved and listened to,” said Gil. I’d always been afraid of the word hospice until we had our encounter with hospice and now to me, hospice is one of the most beautiful words in our language.”

Healing is a journey. There will likely always be a part of Gil that remains broken, but even a broken heart has much that it can give. Through her grief, there was a voice that kept calling out to her to follow through on a promise she made to her daughter.

“It just kept pressing on mind,” said Gil. “I think it was from Anna, ‘Mom, you need to get out there and do this. You need to go do this Mom.’”

Gil Schaenzle ran in 52 national parks, 19 national monuments and two national preserves to raise awareness for NET cancer in memory of her daughter.

During one of Anna’s darkest days after chemotherapy, Gil approached Anna with a crazy idea to give her hope. She snuggled up to her daughter and told her she wanted to run in all of the national parks and asked if she would want to come along and drive the support vehicle.

“She said no, I’m going to run them all with you mom. She had all the resolve in the world and I know that she wanted to do the trip so badly.”

Nine months after Anna died, Gil began a journey that would take her to 52 national parks, 19 national monuments and two national preserves. She ran distances ranging from 5Ks to half marathons and Anna Rose was with her every step of the way.

“It sounds so cliché to say that if this just can help one person – it will all be worth it, we’ve all heard that a million times but it is true in this case,” explains Gil. “Every time someone contacts me and says ‘I know now that I have NET cancer. Thank you, I didn’t know that before.’ If I can play a little tiny piece in helping someone else with their diagnosis and treatment and help them on their journey, I will suffer any amount of pain.”

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