Lambert passes life's latest challenge

There was no way to keep Jennifer Lambert away from the OC Marathon this weekend.

Lambert will work at a water station in Sunday's race, which includes a full and half-marathon, passing out water and no doubt encouraging everyone along the way. On Saturday, she and her fellow coach Julie Siff guided their 300 or so students from Irvine's Woodbury Elementary School in the Kids Run the OC 1-mile race.

Lambert loves running, and has run several half-marathons over the years, including the last two at the OC Marathon. But since last year's race, Lambert's challenge became much more than the mental and physical stresses involved in putting feet to the pavement.

Lambert was told by her doctors it wasn't a good idea to run this year's race, considering all she's gone through since September. It was then that Lambert, 37, was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she immediately underwent a double mastectomy.

Initially, she was diagnosed with DCIS, which is a non-invasive cancer. But after the mastectomy, a pathology report indicated that some of the cancer was invasive, getting into some tissue and a lymphatic vessel, and requiring further treatment.

Lambert underwent 12 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by six weeks of radiation, which she finished up just last week. She'll begin hormonal therapy in the next week or so.

Though the chemo did cause Lambert to lose her hair, one would never be able to tell what Lambert, a third-grade teacher at Woodbury, was going through.

"The kids have helped me through it and all the other teachers, and of course my family, my husband (Larry Kramer) has been very supportive.

"My two kids (Allison and Grant) go to the school and my daughter is in my class. So it's been important to keep things looking as normal as they possibly can, even though they both know and have seen a lot. I just want the students and my own kids to know everything's fine. I'm also trying to make a lesson out of it. 'If you're having a bad day, Mrs. Lambert got through a bad day, you can too.' "

Lambert said her doctors have told her that her prognosis is good, "but obviously they're going to watch me, like, forever, doing different MRIs and tests. But as of now they have a positive outlook on it."

It has been the positive outlook on life that keeps Lambert smiling, and her students at Woodbury feed off it. Lambert and Siff have taken the Kids Run the OC program and, well, run with it.

Two years ago there were 120 kids in the program, and it went up to 215 last year, and finally 300 this year.

"Every Friday I'm out there leading with their stretches and warmups," Lambert said. "I have the music going and a wireless mic so they're all pumped up, and I have a lot of parent volunteers.

"We teach kids exercise can be fun, we have activities like relay races or tag and then we run in heats off campus when they run their mile. And we have a nutritional challenge every week."

Lambert seems a natural as a teacher, but it took a few twists and turns before she landed in virtually the same spot she started. She grew up in Irvine and attended El Camino Elementary, which later became Woodbury.

When Lambert graduated from Irvine High, she had plans to be a pediatric dentist. She also had a thing for acting, having been in the drama club in high school.

"I was going to college and taking my classes but I quickly started booking jobs so I had to drop out of school to stay up with my acting jobs."

So from age 18 to about 25, Lambert was an actress, with recurring roles on the soap operas "General Hospital," "Young and the Restless" and "Days of our Lives."

But when she started volunteering at the elementary school where her younger brother and sister were going, everything changed.

"I fell in love with teaching," she said. "I wanted to go back to school and get my degree and become a teacher. Acting was fun but I wanted to get my degree and I wanted to have a family."

Mission accomplished. Lambert has been at Woodbury for five years now, and has her family with her every step of the way.

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