Cancer survivor encourages others to live life to the fullest

By 
Jodi Mackay
Thursday, October 13, 2022
Penny Reintsma, a breast cancer survivor, was diagnosed with Invasive Carcinoma that was estrogen fed. She is a champion for annual mammograms.

Penny Reintsma, a breast cancer survivor, was diagnosed with Invasive Carcinoma that was estrogen fed. She is a champion for annual mammograms.

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This marks the third year Reintsma will host a “Wine Mile” to fundraise for causes close to her heart and to share her message.

“Do what you want to do. Don’t put it off. Life is not guaranteed.” Wise words to heed from survivor, Penny Reintsma.

At age 56, Reintsma heard that devastating word – cancer. She knew she was at high risk due to family history and hormone replacement therapy for early onset of menopause. At the age of 35, she’d already started receiving annual mammograms. After a breast reduction in July of 2016, Reinstma’s mammogram revealed a flat lump. “They say ‘cancer’ and you just go blank,” she recalls.

Reinstma was diagnosed with Invasive Carcinoma that was estrogen fed – a direct result of the hormone replacement therapy. She had a lobular carcinoma in her right breast. Barely one month after the diagnosis, Reinstma underwent a lumpectomy which included removal of some lymph nodes in her armpit, followed by 21 days of radiation and 6 years of medication and follow-ups. Initially, Anastrozole was prescribed to keep her levels of estrogen low, but it also destroyed her joints and caused thinning bones. She was switched to another medication, but the damage from the Anastrozole led to a hysterectomy. “It sounds like a hot mess, but it wasn’t so bad,” recalls Reinstma. “So many women have it worse.”

Reinstma credits her friends and family for carrying her through the months and years following her diagnosis. “When they first tell you ‘cancer’ everyone was off the charts,” she says. But, everyone came together. “You have to have people to talk to. I never had to worry about being by myself. There was always someone there.” Reinstma’s friend, Kelli Johnson, made “Penny’s Journey” – a binder full of notes about her diagnosis and appointment details. She never went to an appointment alone and the binder turned into a journal and scrapbook of sorts. All the cards and notes she received are tucked into its pages. There’s “so much love” in this book, Reinstma shares.

Due to her family history of breast cancer and having a daughter, Reinstma chose to have testing to determine if her cancer was genetic. Genetic testing could also reveal more health concerns than just breast cancer risk. However, she “wanted to be proactive” despite the fact a person can’t unknow whatever the results may be. Thankfully, the results showed her cancer was not genetic and she had no other health concerns on the horizon.

Reinstma’s proactive approach didn’t stop there. Her life was saved due to early detection and she is a champion for annual mammograms – even going live on Facebook to remind all her friends and family. “I am on them all the time,” Reinstma grins. She turns up the pressure during October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Her fitness students at the Locomotive Fitness Center endure “Burpees for Boobies” as another way for her to get her point across. She also hosts a “Wine Mile” to fundraise for causes close to her heart and to share her message. In October, 30 plus women gather at Reintsma’s home. She has shirts made and takes donations for an area nonprofit. The women each bring a bottle of wine, gather and walk a mile together, rain or shine – it snowed the first year. This year marks the 3rd year of this tradition and these warriors raised over $1,000 to donate to Maylin Bell, a 4-year-old Billings girl, battling a brain tumor.

According to cancer.org, 1 in 8 women have a chance of developing breast cancer. Penny Reinstma reminds us that early detection and intervention and support from friends and family is key.

“I have so much to be thankful for.

There were a lot of peaks and valleys. The tough spots aren’t going to last and there’s always some ray of sunshine going to come through.” She truly embodies what it means to be an advocate and survivor. She is 6 years cancer free and no longer requires medication or follow-up visits.

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