Penny Burkhalter

Wife, mother, activist

Penny Burkhalter’s calling was to be a mother. When she became pregnant with her first child, she gave up her career. She was ecstatic to learn of her second pregnancy, but at the end of her first trimester, she noticed a small lump in one of her breasts. Five days later, she had surgery to have it removed, but a follow-up screening came up positive on one of her lymph nodes.

“When they told me it was cancer, my first reaction was, ‘Am I going to die?’ Then I thought if I die, what’s going to happen to my baby, my other child and husband,” Burkhalter says. “It was the most terrifying thing that I have ever been through.”

She had a mastectomy, but because of the pregnancy couldn’t have reconstructive surgery and later lost her hair. After one treatment, obviously pregnant and with a bandana covering her head, a lady asked her if she would be interested in being a model in a fashion show which featured cancer patents and survivors. Through her, Burkhalter became a cancer advocate and began an ongoing involvement with Runway for the Cure, a fundraiser benefiting the Arkansas affiliate of Susan G. Komen.

Fifteen years after winning her fight, Burkhalter says she has bouts with survivors’ guilt, but says her ordeal made her life better.

“Everything in my life changed so much, but all in such an amazing way,” she says. “I feel like I’m here to help other people who are going through it to get through it. I wouldn’t change the way my life turned out for a second.”

Hometown: Cabot, Ark.

Favorite food: Seafood.

What accomplishment are you most proud of? My children. They have been the biggest gift in my life.

What’s something others would be surprised to know? I was a pretty good tap dancer in my day, am deathly afraid of lightning and have a huge obsession with sharks.

What do you love most about what you do? Being kind. I feel like it always comes back to me.

What quality do you most admire in other women? Strength and confidence.

Person, past or present, you admire most? My mom. I lost her about a year and a half ago. She was everything you could ever want in a mother – so supportive, always there to listen, never judgmental. She was such an amazing role model.

Personal motto: Be kind because you never know what someone else is going through.

What talent do you wish you had? I wish I could sing. I mean I can, but I don’t know how good I sound.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? Right here. My family’s here, and I wouldn’t want to be away from them.