You’ve read about Beth Pendergrass in these pages before.
The Rio Rancho Public Schools staffer was diagnosed in 2018 with breast cancer at the age of 38. Along with her optimistic battle to beat cancer, her story has been reported before — not only here, but elsewhere, even across the Atlantic Ocean.
Then, in a letter to the Observer editor this past October, Pendergrass thanked readers, residents, fellow employees and others for all the support she received on her way to kicking cancer’s butt.
At least twice, Pendergrass thought her oncology team had removed tumors and, going through five cancer-related surgeries (and one back surgery), she would be in remission. But, no: The cancer kept coming back.
So, Pendergrass, 41 in January, has been back at Presbyterian Rust Medical Center, getting more chemo to keep kicking.
“In the last month, I’ve had a couple surgeries — and I’m waiting on my pathology for my surgery last week, to see if they were able to get clear margins. The first surgery they didn’t get clear margins,” she said. “When they remove the tumor, they always ‘shave off’ around it, to make sure the cancer’s not in the surrounding tissue. So when they did that, it showed it was still in the surrounding tissue; they called it microscopic satellite regions, which are hard (to detect), because they don’t light up on a PET (positron emission tomography) scan and you can’t feel them, so it’s hard to know where they really are.
“So they decided to shave off a little more to see if they can get clear margins.”
Pendergrass these days sounds more like a medical technician than RRPS’s chief communications, strategy and engagement officer.
To help relieve her stress and give her something else to focus on, she decided to write a children’s Christmas book — on her cell phone.
Where did that idea come from?
“I have no idea,” she replied. “I just started writing and let it go wherever it was going to go. … It’s a work in progress.
“I’m pretty used to typing on my phone; that’s what I type all my re-creations onto,” she said, referring to the humorous images she posts when she updates her friends and followers on Facebook.
“When I go to bed at night, it’s been my little thing, just typing on my phone,” she said.
Not surprisingly, her book is about a young girl, also named Beth, determined to get some help from Ol’ St. Nick in her battle. Pendergrass said she used her name and two of her siblings’ names as place holders — “until I figure out what names to use.”
Little Beth, in the book, “had never asked Santa for much, but this year was different. This year, she knew it had to be the best letter ever. She needed Santa to give her the gift that no one else could.”
“Dear Santa,” her letter began. “I don’t ask for much, but this year I need a miracle. In March, the doctors told me that I have cancer. … I know I’m not the only kid with cancer, but it’s hard. My mom told me I can’t go to school or play with the other kids because it can make me sick. … I don’t want to be sick anymore. … (A)ll I ask is that you make me better.”
The book, still lacking a cover illustration and a perfect ending, won’t be published until 2021 — she says she still needs “to make the ending a little bit stronger.” So, it could make a great gift for a youngster on your Christmas list in, hopefully, a healthier (for all of us) year.
“I’m not doing it to make money,” she said. “I think it’s a coping mechanism, writing.”
Another coping mechanism for Pendergrass? Staying involved with the community during her fight. That meant she felt compelled to stand outside Cabela’s in Albuquerque earlier this month, swinging a bell for the Salvation Army — despite being one of those classified as higher risk with underlying conditions.
“It’s that time of year. I always like to give back to the community, and there’s not a lot of ways to do that this year,” she said.
So once was enough, with her oncologist recommending against a few more hours seeking donations.
“I think the need is so great this year; families are struggling,” Pendergrass said. “… I’ve always loved holidays.
“I think I’m looking for ways to get that spirit of Christmas and that feeling, you know, without the family and all that tradition,” she explained.
Another book, detailing her long journey in her battle with the “Big C,” is in the back of her mind. You can keep up with her on Facebook.
“You know how awesome it is to hear ‘World Champion’? Well, you know how even cooler it is to hear ‘Three-time World Champion?’ So I’m going for three-time cancer survivor.
“That little bugger just doesn’t want to go away,” she said. “You just have to be positive. And I’m not saying I’m 100 percent positive all the time — you have to know, I have my moments — and I definitely have hard days.
“Especially the third time around — it’s harder to keep your head up and keep going, because I’m exhausted. I’m so tired.”