Jenny Crittenden is a type A personality, the kind who fills in her planning calendar months in advance. So watching her brother Troy go through rounds of chemotherapy as he successfully battled colon cancer in 2011 brought on a feeling of “helplessness” she rarely experiences.
Because of that, Jenny understood perfectly when her son, Langley Speedway Winged Champ Kart driver Vaughan Crittenden, approached her in December 2012 with an idea about raising money to combat breast cancer. Jenny had just undergone a double mastectomy.
“He put on his armor to go through the battle the best way he could,” said Jenny, who joined her son in the effort. “I’m so happy he found a way to turn this into a positive.”
The result of hours of work for Vaughn and Jenny is the “Langley Speedway Pink Project.” The fundraiser to benefit the Riverside Foundation Tree of Life Cancer Care Fund begins at 5 p.m. Saturday at Langley, in conjunction with the track’s five-race Modified Madness 100 stock-car racing card.
The event will include events for kids, including face painting. Two raffles will follow — one offering prizes for ladies from boutiques, spas and restaurants, and another offering autographed items from NASCAR’s four largest series: hats signed by Richard Petty and the back bumper of a Jeff Burton Sprint Cup Series car among them.
The highlight, at 5:45 p.m., will be a Victory Track Walk in which cancer survivors, and those wishing to walk in memory of a cancer victim, can join with race fans and donate $5 to walk a lap on the track to raise money to battle breast cancer. It will be a celebration for Vaughan, Jenny and her husband, Tommy, because of the prognosis that her cancer was contained and should not reappear.
“My mom was one of the lucky ones,” said Vaughan, a 22-year-old senior at James Madison University. “She caught her cancer early and should never have to worry again.
“But others aren’t so lucky or they are battling what she did, and I wanted to turn this into something positive for my mom and me. I couldn’t think of a better way to do it than to reach the community through my second home, Langley Speedway.”
It has also become a second home for Jenny, who sets up a tent each Saturday to distribute information promoting breast-cancer awareness and to raise money for research. It is the latest illustration that cancer didn’t take the fight out of her.
When Jenny first discovered a lump in her breast, she ignored it and the accompanying pain. She’d had a benign lump removed three years earlier and thought the new pain was a recurrence of that or was hormonally related.
Jenny figured she’d get it checked in a few months — “A checkup didn’t fit into my calendar,” she said — until a colleague who had survived breast cancer urged otherwise. Jenny remembers that when her doctor gave her the diagnosis of cancer, it was like hearing the worst and best of things in one sentence.
“He told me that I had breast cancer, but that it was early and that it was curable,” said Jenny, who is the executive director of the Gloucester Main Street Preservation Trust. “I caught my breath and thought, ‘Huh? What are you talking about?’ ”
Within seconds she accepted the diagnosis, asked what the next step was and then fought the cancer with all of her might. The good news was that the cancer was contained in the breast ducts and had not spread.
Another plus was that the genetic tests came back negative. Nonetheless, because of her family history of cancer and the aggressive nature of the tumor, Jenny opted for aggressive treatment: a double mastectomy followed by reconstructive surgery.
“I have a very strong faith,” she said. “Although God allowed this to come into my life, I felt strongly it would not take it.
“I wanted to use the opportunity to help other women.”
She and Vaughan are doing that through the Riverside Foundation Tree of Life Cancer Care Fund. Jenny is thrilled to partner with Riverside because of the compassionate care she received there.
She said she was “visibly unnerved” lying on the gurney on her way to surgery. She recalls a nurse volunteering that she too was a breast-cancer survivor and assured Jenny she would be fine.
Jenny said her surgeon noticed her birthdate while looking through some paperwork weeks after the surgery and called to wish her a happy birthday.
“Those moments of thoughtful care meant the world to me,” Jenny said. “I’m happy the money we’re raising will stay in the community and help people.”
And she’s pleased that much of it will be raised at Langley Speedway.
“That means the world to us, too,” she said. “(Langley owner) Bill Mullis has been so instrumental in gearing Vaughan into the Kart world and teaching him lessons along the way.
“When he brought him in this summer as an intern (for media and social networking), it solidified the relationship. We consider Bill Mullis a friend.”
The only thing that would make Jenny happier would be for Vaughan to win the 25-lap Winged Champ Kart race.
“I’ve struggled this season, whether it was with the chassis or engine,” said Vaughan, who has two career wins in the division. “To win with everybody there on Saturday would be a perfect finish.”
O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963Copyright © 2015, CT Now