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December 06, 2016
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A Penny for your thoughts

An attractive blonde approached my table and shook my hand. “Hi, I’m Penny,” she said. “You’re new around here, right?” I nodded my head, introducing myself and asking for a recommendation. “It’s all great,” Penny replied. “You’re at Blanche’s Diner!” She was right, of course. I quickly learned that the place was legendary, and in an instant, the place, the staff and Penny became a big part of my life. I learned that we had many friends in common and that Penny was a “local” born and bred. A graduate of Liberty High School, she had so many pals that her name popped up wherever I went and over time, I realized that our lives were intertwined. While the pancakes were great, it was the camaraderie and conversation that drew me to the diner daily, and I dished with Penny, Bud and the crew, keeping them up on the news, while they sat at my table, schmoozing and smiling, working hard. Hundreds of breakfasts later, I strolled into the place, but Penny was nowhere to be seen. “Out sick today,” Blanche barked. “Don’t worry, she’ll be back.” As it turned out, Penny was pretty ill. It was 2011 and that week, the news wasn’t so good. Penny had been diagnosed with lung cancer and her prognosis, I learned, wasn’t great. While I was morose, Penny was surprisingly upbeat. “Watch and see,” she said, “I’m going to be the one who beats this.” The mother of two insisted that she had “a lot of livin’ to do,” and had “no intention of giving up,” proceeding to prove her point by learning everything she could and exploring every aspect of treatment available, all the while smiling through the occasional tears, losing her hair, and her boyfriend, but never giving in.

Once again, small town life showed me the way. Penny’s friends rallied ‘round, and her upbeat attitude was infectious. “Don’t feel sorry for me,” Penny admonished. “What do you think of my new wig?” It’s been said that “when one door closes…” and the point was driven home, when I learned that Penny had met a “very special man” named Don. The two found each other online, through a lung cancer survivors group, and what began as a friendship, quickly blossomed into romance. Their inspirational story became national news ( and has been covered extensively in stories across the globe and here at home, including a report on ABC’s Good Morning America.