Elementary teacher, wife, mother, Purdue fan – Second bout of sarcoma

She’s dedicated her life to teaching and now Lisa Fankhauser is using the same determination in fighting cancer.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

The young lives of second through fifth graders have been touched by her devotion. Her own three children have learned about her abundant love, and her husband of 33 years supports her determination.

At 55, Lisa Fankhauser is bringing on her “A game” – giving it her “All” to face a second bout of cancer. The timing is bad; but she knows that’s how life works sometimes. As an elementary teacher she is accustomed to expecting the unexpected.

It was 2004 when she was first diagnosed with Synovial sarcoma (SS), a rare type of cancer that affects the soft tissues supporting the bones and organs in her body. Under the care of IU Health Dr. Daniel Wurtz she underwent surgery on her left leg. The procedure included removal of the sarcoma in her hamstring and a benign bone tumor in her femur – replacing it with a cadaver bone and steel rod.

Three years later the cancer began to spread to her lungs. She became a patient of IU Health oncologist Dr. Daniel Rushing and began a chemotherapy regime. After a clear scan, Fankhauser thought she’d beat the enemy.

A native of Munster, Fankhauser was number four of five children who grew up to become a diehard Purdue fan. Her father is a Boilermaker and four of his five children attended Purdue. She met her husband Jerry at the West Lafayette campus and they were married 33 years ago. Together they have three children – a daughter, Jordan Keen who lives in Michigan, and sons Trey, who lives in Crown Point, and Luke who lives in in Gainesville, Fla. The family lived most of their life in Lafayette where Fankhauser’s husband taught at Purdue and she was an elementary teacher at Wyandotte Elementary.

“I think my favorite thing about teaching is I love the smiles I get from kids from kids and every day is a new day,” said Fankhauser. “When you see something clicks with them, it just makes my day. I love serving others and children have always had a place in my heart.” For Christmas this year she bought ginger bread house kits for all 20 students in her second grade class. She also sent a note home to parents letting them know her cancer had returned. In addition to teaching she loves Cubs baseball and once decorated her classroom in a Cubs theme.

She also loves Purdue sports. Her favorite games are the first ones of the season when she can tailgate with friends and family.

She was in the stands of Mackey Arena the first week in December when Purdue faced off against second-ranked Virginia. Purdue dominated and the game ended in a 69-40 victory over the defending national champions. It was a moment that would come back to offer inspiration to Fankhauser later as she again faced her cancer treatments.

Her husband accepted a job at the University of Florida and Fankhauser was preparing to retire and enjoy the southern sunshine. But in November as she was helping her daughter move, Fankhauser was rubbing her sore shoulders when she noticed a fullness. A large mass was discovered on her right side. The cancer had returned.

“I have thought many times about that amazing Purdue win over Virginia. Purdue dominated and I thought ‘we’re back; we can do this,’” said Fankhauser. “That’s how I feel now. No one wants to hear they have cancer again. My kids are older and I feel like I’m in a good place and want to get rid of it once and for all.”

Under the care of Dr. Rushing she began 18 weeks of chemotherapy and faces surgery to remove the mass.

“Even as I was preparing to move to Florida we still feel comfortable sticking with our plan to have chemo and surgery here. I have such confidence in the expertise at IU Health that goes back 2004. I feel like I’m in the best possible place I can be.”