By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Jen Lankin prefers to think of herself as a cancer “battler,” not a survivor.
Now in remission, the 43-year-old middle school reading teacher from Lansdale, Pa., has been fighting cancer ever since she was diagnosed with leukemia in 2016.
“I don’t like the term survivor. I think I’m a battler,” Lankin said.
By describing herself as a battler, she wants everyone to know that she is determined to conquer cancer instead of simply hoping to survive.
On a sultry Wednesday morning, Lankin and her family joined with other “battlers” for a beach outing in Sea Isle City that allowed them to enjoy a getaway of sorts from the emotional and physical toll of cancer.
Lankin, her husband, Rob, 46, and her 14-year-old stepdaughter, Emma, were part of a group of about 90 people enjoying a day at the shore organized by a nonprofit organization called For Pete’s Sake Cancer Respite Foundation.
Normally, For Pete’s Sake and its sponsors team up to send cancer patients and their family members on weeklong trips to the Jersey Shore and other vacation destinations. But the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the vacations in the past year.
The beach trip Wednesday at 46th Street in Sea Isle was the first full-fledged outing that For Pete’s Sake was able to organize since the pandemic struck last year.
“COVID has been especially challenging for cancer patients because there has been so much isolation,” said Marci Schankweiler, founder and chief executive officer of For Pete’s Sake. “But today is a great example of how they are emerging from their isolation and enjoying a day out on the beach with their families. It shows them that they are never alone in their journey.”
Although the pandemic greatly limited the organization’s activities in the past year, it has been sending families each month on getaways to the Pocono Mountains at Woodloch Resort in Hawley, Pa.
It also has been sponsoring at-home staycations for cancer patients and their families during the pandemic.
“Even with COVID, we’ve been able to deliver our mission,” Schankweiler said. “Cancer keeps going. It doesn’t stop.”
Wednesday’s sojourn at the beach helped to ease the stress of cancer – if only for a few hours – for patients and their families.
“It’s always in the back of my mind. Even on good days, it’s in the back of my mind,” Jen Lankin said.
“But it’s a perfect day,” she continued. “The ability to be able to take a relaxing day at the beach with my family is as good as I could imagine.”
After she was diagnosed with leukemia, Lankin received a bone marrow transplant in 2017. She was in remission, but had a relapse, requiring what she called a “mini” bone marrow transplant in 2019. She is in remission again.
“In the journey, we’ve come to know so many amazing people who are so caring and supportive,” Lankin said of For Pete’s Sake and others who have helped her and her family in her battle with cancer.
For Pete’s Sake and its sponsors try to extend a helping hand to cancer patients, their families and their caregivers – creating a far-reaching “ripple effect” that spreads throughout the community.
Local businesses helped to sponsor the Sea Isle beach outing. Maryanne Pastry Shoppe supplied breakfast, Uncle Oogie’s Pizzeria provided lunch and the Sands Department Store donated prizes for games on the beach.
The name For Pete’s Sake was inspired by Schankweiler’s late first husband, Peter Bossow Jr., a former Sea Isle lifeguard who died of testicular cancer in 1999 when he was just 30 years old.
Schankweiler, 52, grew up in Sea Isle as Marci Kuttler, the daughter of Mariann and Herb Kuttler. The Kuttler family has owned the Maryanne Pastry Shoppe in Sea Isle for more than 50 years.
Seven months before he passed away, Pete and Marci traveled to the Caribbean islands of St. John and Nevis during a trip paid for by their friends and family.
During the trip, they came up with the idea of creating For Pete’s Sake to give other cancer patients and their caregivers a “respite” from the disease. Since its founding in 2000, the organization and its sponsors have helped more than 9,000 cancer patients and their families.
Lindsey Schnecker praised For Pete’s Sake for the help it has given her family. Her 36-year-old husband, Ricky, died of brain cancer in 2020.
“They have stood behind us 100 percent. What they have been able to do for people is amazing,” Schnecker said.
Schnecker, 36, of Somers Point, was joined by her children, Haley, 11, Emma, 8, and 4-year-old twins Ricky III and Brielle, at the Sea Isle beach outing.
While Ricky was still alive, For Pete’s Sake sent the family on a respite vacation in 2017 to Camp Wavus in Jefferson, Maine. Schnecker noted that the trip allowed her family to create memories that they will cherish for a lifetime.
“It was one of the best trips in his lifetime. He always talked about it,” she said of her late husband.
For more information about For Pete’s Sake, visit Take a Break From Cancer | For Pete’s Sake Cancer Respite Foundation.
Weather permitting, a baggo tournament fundraiser benefiting cancer patients will be held July 9 at 4 p.m. at Sea Isle City’s Excursion Park. To register, visit Maryanne Pastry SIC Cornhole Tournament | Corhole For Cancer (cornholeforcancer.org).