FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Jeanne Lambert is not a professional, nor a particularly fast, runner. But on Aug. 13, in Fort Collins’ City Park, Lambert, 61, will lace her shoes up, alongside a couple hundred other runners, and run more than three miles.
And as she runs, she will undoubtedly pray, not just a prayer for strength and endurance, but one also of thanksgiving for allowing her to run and spread her message of hope.
Lambert and her husband, John, were Ogallala residents for 20 years before moving to Fort Collins eight years ago. John, a former Keith County Extension Agent, and Jeanne, a registered nurse who worked at Ogallala and North Platte, raised their daughters, Kelly, Shawn and Cami, at Ogallala.
At Fort Collins, the couple settled into their home and community, John working as a computer consultant, and Jeanne continuing her nursing career.
Life was good, and during the years, the couple’s family grew with the addition of three sons-in-laws and eight grandchildren.
About four years ago, Lambert began to experience symptoms, some of which she attributed to menopause.
“I had diarrhea and flushing. I thought it was menopause so I just explained away the symptoms,” she said.
In addition, Lambert suffered from uncontrollable high blood pressure, and doctors thought she was having trans ischemic attacks, which are warning signals of an impending stroke.
Lambert went to doctors and specialists, none of whom accurately diagnosed the problem. The symptoms continued in varying degrees until last May when Lambert made a trip to North Platte to visit her mother.
“I felt so sick,” Lambert said. She managed to drive herself back to Fort Collins and the next morning, she was admitted in the hospital. That evening, she underwent an emergency bowel resection.
“During 24 hours, I lost four units of blood,” she said. “I also woke up to the diagnosis of Stage 4 carcinoid cancer that had metastasized to the liver.”
Carcinoid cancer is extremely rare with only 20 in 1 million people having the disease, she said. “As a nurse, I had never heard of carcinoid cancer,” Lambert said.
She learned about the disease quickly, though. Carcinoid cancer is a neuroendocrine cancer that is often misdiagnosed because its symptoms, flushing, wheezing, diarrhea and/or abdominal pain can mimic other conditions.
Lambert’s original tumor was two centimeters and located in her small intestine.
“When they found it, it was not good news,” Lambert said. Doctors told Lambert that the average life expectancy, if left untreated, would be one-to-five years.
“At that time, no treatment was offered,” Lambert said. “I came home with the thought that I’d better get my life in order.”
That thought didn’t last long, however, as Lambert decided she was going to learn all she could about the disease and all possible treatments, and fight for her life.
“This was a very pivotal moment in my life,” she said.
She made dozens of phone calls, scanned the Internet for hours, and learned which doctors in different parts of the country were doing the most research on the disease.
Even her husband and daughters helped with the research.
“John and all the girls were searching for anything on carcinoid cancer. Everyone started digging right away,” she said.
While one doctor discouraged Lambert, (he told her, “Just be thankful you don’t have colon cancer. You’d be dead by the end of the summer,”) others offered inspiration and hope.
In September 2004, Lambert went to a carcinoid conference, which brought together professionals with the most knowledge about the disease.
“That’s the first time I had hope I could buy myself some time,” Lambert said.
She learned about the research doctors were conducting on the cancer at Louisiana State University, and ultimately, made an appointment there with a doctor who specialized in the disease.
“I saw the carcinoid specialist, and he referred me on to a liver transplant doctor,” Lambert said.
On Nov. 9, 2004, Lambert underwent a liver resection where three golf ball-sized tumors were removed. Radio frequency ablation was conducted on four other tumors.
“At that time, my liver was clean,” Lambert said.
Lambert said it took several months to recover from the surgery, but slowly she began to gain her strength. She was determined not only to get well, but to educate others on the disease and its symptoms and to give others hope.
Lambert said, while she found the best doctors for her care, she did not rely solely on their expertise.
“I prayed about every single decision I made,” she said.
Lambert said she has heard God’s voice.
“He said, ‘I’m here with you,’” she said.
Lambert, who has always relied on God for strength, said her faith was strengthened beyond her imagination during the ordeal.
“In the hospital, I had the presence of strength, love and protection like I’ve never experienced before. I’ve been touched in a huge way,” she said.
One day this spring, Lambert was driving in Fort Collins when the idea of how to not only raise awareness but also funds came to her. Living in a community that is health-conscious and many of whose residents are active, Lambert thought about putting on a running event.
She pulled into the parking lot of Foot of the Rockies, a running accessory shop she had never been in, and walked into the store determined.
“How do you put on a road race?” she asked the owner.
Lambert said the man told her she needed “$2,000 in your pocket” to even begin the process. She went to the management of her employer, Harmony Surgery Center, which is affiliated with Poudre Valley Hospital. They immediately pledged $1,500. After contacting several other sponsors, and asking Poudre Valley Health Foundation to be the fiscal agent of the project, the Run for Hope, set for 8 a.m. Aug. 13 in Fort Collins City Park, was conceived.
While Lambert’s husband, John, was the runner in the family, Lambert said she enjoyed the sport as well as riding her bicycle to keep in shape. After the bowel resection, exercise offered her a big challenge.
“My goal was to get back on my bike three weeks after my first surgery,” she said.
Accomplishing that, Lambert aimed for a similar goal after the liver resection. Yet, when she left the hospital in Louisiana, she couldn’t walk to the car. Once home, each day she grew stronger and more determined.
First she started with a walk across the yard, progressing to a slow jog down the street. Today, Lambert runs about three miles a day.
“It’s a good motivational thing,” she said.
In addition to raising awareness of the disease, Lambert said she wants the Run for Hope to show people facing a grave illness that joy and hope can still be in their lives.
“It’s been a great experience. It opened up doors and has given me so many gifts,” Lambert said. “Life is so precious each day.”
Lambert said, during her entire cancer journey, she has not been afraid.
“I’ve had no fear, no denial and no anger,” she said. While Lambert was shocked when she first learned the seriousness of her illness, she has not been afraid of living with cancer or dying.
“I just anticipate something better,” she said.
In addition to her strong faith in God, Lambert said she receives great support from her family, friends, doctors and co-workers.
“No one gave up. They were all so supportive,” she said.
Today, Lambert said she feels “wonderful, better than I have for years. I have energy and I’m working again.” She continues to work one day a week.
Because Lambert’s cancer is not receptive to chemotherapy or radiation, once a month she receives an injection that alleviates some of the symptoms of the cancer.
“We’re hoping it shrinks the tumors also,” she said.
Every three to six months, Lambert undergoes scans and testing at LSU.
While optimistic, Lambert knows the cancer is still there, however, it’s not detectable at the moment.
“I know it can poke itself up again,” Lambert said.
While Lambert doesn’t know what her future holds, she is confident that her journey of making people aware of carcinoid cancer and raising funds for research will continue so that one day, no one will have to suffer from the disease.
She also hopes to one day write a children’s book, based on her own experience with the disease.
“One day, my granddaughter asked me, ‘Nana, how does it feel to have cancer?”
Lambert continues her progression in awareness and recently met with Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane Norton. After explaining her plight, Norton committed to signing a proclamation declaring August as Carcinoid Cancer Awareness Month in the state. That proclamation was approved by Gov. Bill Owens last week.
“That’s bigger than life to me,” Lambert said. “It’s a huge, wonderful affirmation for me.”
Lambert, who even surprises herself on her new found inner-strength, said she is thankful for her accomplishments.
“I know God has a special plan for this rare cancer in my life.”
Want to run?
Jeanne Lambert of Fort Collins, Colo., formerly of Ogallala, was diagnosed May 18, 2004 , with stage IV carcinoid cancer. Lambert turned the diagnosis into a gift.
“The ‘gift of cancer’ has given me a mission,” Lambert said. “I want to raise awareness of cancer and give others hope that you can have joy and happiness outside of the diagnosis.”
Lambert has organized the Carcinoid Cancer Awareness 5K Run for Hope, set for 8 a.m. Aug. 13 in the City Park at Fort Collins. A one-mile fun run is also scheduled.
All proceeds from the run will benefit the Carcinoid Cancer Foundation, Inc. and the Poudre Valley Hospital Foundation Cancer Project.
For information or to pre-register for the run online, go to the Web site, www.runforhope.net. Registration will also be conducted prior to the run from 6:45 until 7:45 a.m. at the Fort Collins City Park.