Five years ago, Penny Garrett of Damascus, Va., was told she needed a miracle. Her sarcoma had not only returned, but it had also spread.
“I went home and probably would have ended up in hospice,” Garrett says. “But my sister stepped in and said, ‘No, we’re not taking that.’ Within two weeks, I had an appointment at MD Anderson.”
Garrett soon met Robert Benjamin, M.D., professor in Sarcoma Medical Oncology, and he had options for her. She realized the importance of seeing a specialist, especially when faced with a rare cancer.
“There are only six of us at MD Anderson who deal with sarcoma treatment, but that’s more than exist at any other cancer facility in the world,” Benjamin says. “We only see things that are rare, so to us, they’re common.”
With a goal of raising awareness and funds for rare cancers, Garrett and her family started the Creeper Trail Ride to End Cancer (C-TREC), a bike ride and 5K on the Virginia Creeper Trail that runs through their town. C-TREC celebrated its fifth annual event in July.
“We set a goal at $50,000 the first year but never thought we’d meet it, and we surpassed it,” she says. “It’s unreal how our very small community (population 815) wanted to support this effort.”
Benjamin has participated in C-TREC for the past four years. He and Penny have a tradition of walking together.
“Penny is a magnificent woman,” Benjamin says. “Her community is smaller than the MD Anderson faculty, yet by reaching out to neighbors, it’s done an unbelievable job in helping our research.”
Hundreds of participants from multiple states geared up for C-TREC this year, but one important person was missing: Penny. In January, she was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes, a form of leukemia that’s common in people with prior chemotherapy treatment. Garrett began a stem cell transplant just days before the event.
“Churches opened for days to pray for Penny,” says Olivia French, Garrett’s sister. “Words can’t express the gratitude we have for the outpouring of love and support.”
“It’s been tough, but the support means so much when you’re going through something hard like this,” Garrett says. “I feel fortunate that I can come to MD Anderson, and I feel like that’s the reason I’m still alive.”
To date, C-TREC has contributed more than $450,000 to research efforts. This year’s event raised more than $70,000.
“The Garretts have been extraordinarily helpful to us,” Benjamin says. “On behalf of Penny and all of the other ‘Pennys’ out there who don’t have the same kind of support she does, I thank them from the bottom of my heart."
*Editor’s note: Penny died on Dec. 3, 2014 of complications related to her stem-cell transplant. She fought cancer for six years. Her legacy will live on through C-TREC and the Penny F. Garrett Sarcoma Foundation.