Jenn Andrews: How a Woman with One Leg Inspired the World to Move!
This week on The Motivational Intelligence Podcast, we have a very special guest named Jennifer Andrews. Born in Englewood, NJ, she is a former corporate sales executive turned health and wellness coach. Jenn’s world was turned upside down after discovering a lump on her foot while getting a pedicure, leading her to being diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer called sarcoma.
The week before her surgery, she recorded a Facebook Live Video that unintentionally went viral, as she requested others to appreciate their mobility and to MOVE in their favorite form of exercise on her surgery date. In the video, Jenn said, “Mobility is a gift and it’s something that a lot of us take for granted because it’s something that we’re born with,” Jenn’s video quickly went viral, so much so, that #moveforjenn was trending on several different social media platforms. This video lead to a movement.
That was just the beginning of Jenn’s impact on the world. After losing her right foot in March of 2018 and adapting to life as an active amputee, she quickly learned that activewear prosthetics were not covered by insurance. She and her husband, Miles started thinking about all of the cancer survivors who were not leading active lives because of this expense. This gap between what is “covered” as a benefit and what is left as an out of pocket expense had to be filled. Jenn and Miles made this their mission with the Move for Jenn Foundation. Their focus is to grant funds for activewear prosthetics to cancer survivors and sarcoma research.
The mission of the Move For Jenn Foundation is to offer grants to sarcoma researchers and those who have suffered the loss of a limb to sarcoma or other affiliated diseases. The foundation’s goal is to raise awareness through fundraising events, while also helping amputees afford or obtain an active-wear prosthetic, allowing them to regain strength and mobility faster, getting them back to the physical activities they enjoyed prior to amputation.
Jenn resides in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband, two kids and three dogs. She is a two time sarcoma survivor and amputee and her story is incredibly inspiring. This is definitely an episode you don’t want to miss! Listen to episode 26, “Jennifer Andrews – How a Woman With One Leg Inspired The World to Move”
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The Move For Jenn Foundation
Our Mission – To Help Sarcoma Amputees
The mission of the Move For Jenn Foundation is to offer grants to sarcoma researchers and those who have suffered the loss of a limb to sarcoma or other affiliated diseases. The foundation’s goal is to raise awareness through fundraising events, while also helping amputees afford or obtain an active-wear prosthetic, allowing them to regain strength and mobility faster, getting them back to the physical activities they enjoyed prior to amputation.
With your help, we can help fight sarcoma and give amputees an opportunity to keep MOVING! Every donation matters, even the smallest offering of support is greatly appreciated. Sign up for our newsletter below to stay updated on upcoming events, new products and volunteer opportunities around the Queen City.
Jersey Jenn’s Kitchen
Jersey Jenn’s Kitchen – A Message From Jenn: “I have a passion for people, helping others, dogs and cooking! When it comes to cooking, I have always been a “no recipe” girl – and I make everything my own. I have never been someone who measures – it’s always a “dash” and a “splash” when it comes to ingredients.
I became a health and wellness coach in 2015, helping others achieve alkalinity through a super-food nutritional re-balancing system (contact me for details). Very quickly I learned through this process, what came easy to me in the kitchen, didn’t come natural to all. Preparing healthy meals that are packed with flavor, that won’t break the bank and will keep your taste buds (and your body) thanking you is the goal! Some of my meals are healthy basics, others are a healthy take on a splurge meal. Everything is cooked in roughly 30 minutes and doesn’t take a ton of prep time. Healthy can be easy and fast. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming and complicated! I hope you find these recipes quick, helpful and delicious like we do!”
David Naylor: Well, welcome everybody. We have a fantastic story today and a wonderful, wonderful guest. There’s a great quote from Charles Swindoll. It’s one of my favorites, and he said that, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you choose to react to it”. Our guest today is a wonderful, wonderful example of that in many, many aspects of her life.
Her name is Jen Andrews, and Jen and her husband, Miles, they have two adorable young children, Hannah and Ari. Jen is a lady who is a former corporate sales executive who pivoted in her career and became a health and wellness coach. She is also a foodie who has a blog, I think one of the great name, “Jersey Jen’s Kitchen.” I love the alliteration of that.
Jen is also a cancer survivor who started a charitable foundation, “Move for Jen”, and we’ll put a link to that in the show notes. But what she does is she raises money to help other cancer survivors and to fund cancer research through the foundation.
Jen’s story is truly one of the heartwarming ones and tremendously inspirational. It’s a story that’s been picked up quite a bit in her hometown media from Charlotte, North Carolina. But it’s also been picked up nationally in “People” magazine on their online edition and “Runner’s World,” and the online edition of “The Today Show.” So Jen, welcome to the show today.
Jenn Andrews: Thank you for having me.
David Naylor: Oh, you’re very, very welcome. So, well, Jen, why don’t we do this, just to give the listeners a little bit of background? Now, you grew up in New Jersey, correct?
Jenn Andrews: I did. Bergen County, yes.
David Naylor: Now you and your husband, Miles, you guys were high school sweethearts?
Jenn Andrews: We were. So I actually moved down to North Carolina in middle school and my husband and I met in high school and we started dating my senior year. We always kind of stuck together. So we coincidentally ended up at the same college and we dated all through out and we got married nine years later. So, yeah.
David Naylor: Good for you guys. My wife, Michelle and I were also high school sweethearts. There’s not a lot of us around, so it’s very cool when you see that and there’s so much of, having basically grown up together, you go through so many life experiences together, and it definitely makes for a strong bond, you know? So I think that’s absolutely fantastic.
Jenn Andrews: Yeah, I agree with you. We’ve been through just about every life change together possible. We’ll be married 10 years next year, so it’s been awhile.
David Naylor: Good for you guys. So Jen, you come out of college, tell us a little bit, as you’re starting out after college, what did you do after college? What did you think your life work would be as you’re coming out of college?
Jenn Andrews: You know, it was funny when I went to college, I had my degree in communications and journalism. So I loved writing. I loved telling stories. I loved helping people, but I didn’t really know what capacity that was going to lead into my career. So I ended up actually in group insurance and I worked with some incredible people, which was really awesome. I started off with Lincoln Financial group, which was a phenomenal company and honestly the people in this office are now dear friends years and years and years later after I haven’t worked there for quite some time.
When I was at that company, I outgrew my role. So I ended up switching to another company. They were an established insurance company, but they had just created a group division and I was going to be part of helping to build that out. So it was really exciting. It was almost like an entrepreneurial opportunity within a well-established company. So I really liked the combination of all of that together and the ability to be creative and help really build this division from the ground up was just very appealing. Well, fast forward, they had a lot of changes. They had a lot of growing pains and within all of that, my region with four others was eliminated a week before I was scheduled for my second C-section with our second child.
So I ended up losing my job to the restructure and I, at that time, had started this health and wellness plan that really I started to lose baby weight from the first one. I just, I wanted to feel good again. So fast forward, this system worked really well for me, and it ended up kind of snowballing into a business opportunity.
It allowed me to kind of walk away from corporate America and work for myself. So in the process of all of that, I had a baby, my second baby and one thing, I guess I should kind of rewind, my kids are 14 months apart. So my daughter Hannah, she’s now six. My son Ari is now five and when I was pregnant with Hannah, I was still in group insurance and I was getting a pedicure and I was sitting in the chair and the woman was massaging my feet and she noticed a pea size nodule on my right foot and I had never noticed that before. I didn’t have any pain. It wasn’t anything that kind of, you know, caught my attention. So after I left the nail salon, I had a physician look at it and he said, “Oh, this is a ganglion cyst. Very common, completely benign, nothing to worry about.” So I went about my life. Well, when I was pregnant the second time, it grew from a piece size to a golf ball on my right foot.
So clearly I knew something had to be done about it. But being pregnant, they won’t do anything for you. So I waited until after I had my second child to plan to have surgery. I was biopsied and everything came back benign. So again, this was just kind of this funky mass on my foot. We didn’t really know what was going on.
I had zero pain and at this point I had just recently lost my job. I just had a baby. I’m starting this new business that I’m leading myself and then now I’m having this foot surgery. So I had the surgery on December 3rd I was biopsied before everything was fine and then 10 days postop, I went to an appointment with my 17 month old and three month old at the time in tow. I thought I was getting stitches out, maybe just checking my incision, nothing to worry about and he sat me down and told me that I had a rare form of sarcoma and that they didn’t know they were doing a cancer surgery because all of my biopsies came back normal. So the mass that I had on my foot was benign everywhere except for the layer that attached to the top of my foot. So at this point, again, I had two new babies. I had just lost my job. I was building this new business and now I had cancer.
David Naylor: So Jen, walk us through, all of a sudden you hear the c- word. Right? So to your point, you’ve lost your job, you’re starting down this new career path. You’ve got two small ones at home and what was going through your mind? What were the emotions you were feeling in that moment?
Jenn Andrews: It’s almost this numbing feeling. It’s a heavy feeling that I never want anybody I know to ever experience or anybody I don’t know to ever experience.
Unfortunately, cancer is so prevalent now, so there are so many people who go through these same processes. Maybe not to the extent of losing a limb like I did, but initially when I was diagnosed, he said, “Well, we didn’t know we were doing a cancer surgery, so we may have gotten a clean margin or we may not have.”
The type of sarcoma that I had was so funky and rare that there were only 44 reported cases of what I had and he really could only give me a general diagnosis versus a very specific, so just to kind of give you a little bit of background about sarcoma, sarcoma is a rare cancer without a cure.
There’s 160 subtypes and it’s considered a rare cancer. So you can have a rare subtype within a rare cancer, which makes it even more difficult. And what a lot of people don’t realize too, is that sarcoma also makes up between 15 and 20% of all pediatric cancers. So it’s definitely a cancer that needs more attention, and that is completely underfunded.
So for me, I was just thinking, you know, I had these two small kids at home and just to kind of give you a little bit of background, my mom’s a breast cancer survivor, and my mother-in-law actually had, by the time they caught it, it was everywhere, but she had a very aggressive form of cancer and she passed away several years ago.
So my experience with cancer in the forefront of my mind was losing my mother in law. She was my second mom. We’re high school sweethearts, my husband and I. So I grew up with her. She wasn’t just my mother in law. She was like, mom number two. So going through the loss and experience with her, that’s all I could think about looking at my two little babies in that appointment, thinking “I don’t want them to grow up without me because I’m young and they’re young and I don’t want to miss out on them.” So I said to my doctor, “Well, what if I don’t want to have to deal with this?” At this point I’m thinking we’re going to go in and do another surgery. It’s not what I want, but you know, it is what it is. He said, “If you don’t want to have to worry about this, you’re going to have to lose your right foot,” and at that moment, it was so much information and it was such a shock that I really couldn’t process anything.
I remember sitting in the room, I remember my body getting heavy and hot, and I could see his mouth moving, but I couldn’t hear anything he was saying. It was almost, I mean, people say when you go through things like this, it’s like an out of body experience. But truly it is. I mean, it’s just sometimes when you get news like that, it’s just such a shock to your mind, to your body, to everything that you just can’t physically and mentally process at all. So at that point, because we didn’t know if we got a clean margin or if there were cancer cells left, the problem was in my foot, if you think about it, like on your foot, if you run your fingers over the top of it, all you have is skin, tendons and bones.
It’s not like if it was in your thigh or in your calf or in your arm where there’s muscle and you could go in and carve something out. So unfortunately for the location of my cancer, there wasn’t really anything else to go and take out. So at that point we decided that being watched was not unreasonable because the type that I had was low grade, which means that if it was going to come back, we would catch it.
I was scanned every three months. If it was going to spread, it would go to my lungs. So my leg and my lungs were scanned every three months for the first year and I was clear. Year two I moved to every six months and everything was clear. And at that point, year three, I was able to go a full twelve months without scans. So you know, you can think about, they call it, “scanxiety”, and for anybody who’s been through cancer, any kind of medical scare where you have to constantly be followed, it’s really hard to kind of feel like your normal self. So when I was getting scanned every three months, as soon as they would call to make the appointment, my stomach would drop and you just get, I would get quiet. I would be antisocial. I wouldn’t be my normal self because I was so in my head about, “What if my cancer’s back?” And then you have the scan and you get good results or you don’t get good results. But for a while I got good results and it almost takes a month for you to actually accept that you’ve received good news.
It’s hard to, to accept, “Okay, I’m in the clear,” but the problem is that so many people think, oh, well, you get a clear scan, or when you’re told you’re in remission, that means you’re good and you’re cancer free and it does to an extent, but it doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.
It means you’re good for now. I was very aware of what that meant. So after a scan, everybody, my family and my friends would all be so happy and I would be happy too. But in the back of my mind, I thought, “I’m happy for now, but what does this mean for my future?”
So my third year, I was able to go a whole twelve months without scans, without testing and it was the most normal I felt. But at the same time, as nice as it was to not be going for those scans, I wasn’t receiving that, “You’re okay. Keep going. You’re okay. Keep going.” So when we were rounding out the year, I remember feeling very anxious and I didn’t have any reason to, because initially we thought if my cancer was going to come back, it was going to come back the same way that it started.
I would feel it on my foot. Obviously I didn’t have any pain before, which was making it kind of tricky for me to be diagnosed. But I would be able to see it. I’d be able to feel it and I would check my foot myself probably three to four times a day because that’s how obsessive I became over not wanting to lose my foot.
Then January 2nd of 2018 I went for my annual scan and unfortunately for me, what we expected was to have, if it was going to come back, it would be localized in one spot. But for me, it came back as a three millimeter layer over my entire right foot. So we didn’t know what it was initially and I had to be tested.
Obviously in my heart, I knew it was back. What else could it be? So, initially my physician wanted to reopen my incision from three years ago and really dig into everything. So I’m thinking, great, I’m going to go through this full on surgery because I was in a boot, I was on crutches for eight weeks trying to carry myself around and now it’s going to be that again.
But he is really great at getting other opinions and he always brings me up in his tumor boards. So, everybody kind of agreed that I was a good candidate for a punch biopsy. I was not a good candidate for a regular biopsy because the first time around they poked me probably, I don’t know, nine times and got nine different samples, but they all came back benign because again, the only cancerous part was the whole layer that was attached to my foot.
So we scheduled the punch biopsy and it proved that my cancer was in fact back. And at this point it was so, it took over my whole foot and I didn’t have any choices. My doctor looked at me and he said, “If you want to be here for your kids, and if you want to watch them grow up, if you want to watch them graduate, if you want to watch them dance at their weddings, if you want to be there for every moment, you’re going to do this.” He refocused me on what I would be here for versus what I would be losing. It was a very easy decision to make, but it was a very hard decision to accept.
And at that point, he just refocused me because obviously to hear that you’re losing your limb and you’re losing your mobility is gut wrenching and heartbreaking. That’s all I could think about. But then at the same time, the mom in me doesn’t want my kids to grow up without me. I want to be here for their lives.
David Naylor: So, when you came out of that meeting, was Miles here with you or was that a conversation that you had afterwards?
Jenn Andrews: So, initially, I was always having someone come to my scans. I would have either my mom or Miles and after three years of getting good news and not seeing any kind of like lump or bump or feel any pain, I felt confident going to my scans alone. So I was alone in that appointment. I remember when he came in, just the heavy feeling I felt the first time I was diagnosed to the second time when my cancer came back. It was so heartbreaking and so crushing that literally, I just remember sitting in the chair and he gave me a hug and shook my hand and then he told me my news, and I just remember that heavy feeling was so suffocating.
I remember feeling like I couldn’t breathe. I remember kind of hyperventilating in the chair. I remember just sitting there trying so hard to keep my composure, and the tears were just pouring out of my face and I couldn’t control it. So I tried to hold it in as best as I could while he told me everything and I just couldn’t wait to get out of the office.
So I left the office. I just sat in my car and sobbed because there was nothing I could do and at that point, my doctor was amazing. Like I said, he brings me up in all of his tumor boards, anytime something happens and we always get other opinions, and he is really great about making sure that you’re comfortable or as comfortable as you can be with the decision you’re making.
So I went to MD Anderson in Texas to get another opinion. That was not a good experience and that’s like, a whole other conversation. I feel very blessed to have the people in Charlotte that I’ve been able to work with, when it comes to my medical situations, because I do really feel like the team that I had was so brilliant and not only were they brilliant from their knowledge base on how to handle my situation, but also the bedside manner was just incredible. The way that everybody handled me, the way everything was explained. I really was so fortunate for the way that everything played out in a very unfortunate situation.
David Naylor: So Jen, you mentioned that your doctor brought you up in the tumor boards. What is a tumor board?
Jenn Andrews: So each hospital, most hospitals have this, but each hospital has a team of doctors that work on different types of cancer. When you have a complicated case, they’ll bring up your case and bring your scans, bring your records, and they’ll discuss you with your permission with the team of doctors.
Because a lot of times, other people might have a case similar or they’ve worked with somebody like you prior at another hospital. So it’s just kind of a way to get other opinions fairly quickly. So that was really helpful. My doctor also is phenomenal. He used to study under the head physician at the Mayo Clinic before he came to Charlotte, and he also brought me up to his folks over in the Mayo Clinic and the consensus was the same everywhere I went, I just didn’t have any options.
David Naylor: So, you know, obviously you have a choice, but to your point, you don’t have a choice. You know, it’s “This is what I have to do in order to continue on, to watch my kids grow up and to experience life.”
But by the same token, you’re dealing with the weight of losing your foot. So the well of emotions that you had, particularly being a physically active person, being a fitness coach, you’re looking at a total shift in your life and your self-concept, and so I have to, when you talk about the stages of grief that people go through, did you go through that kind of the anger and the denial before getting to that place of acceptance, or was that something that happened fairly quickly for you?
Jenn Andrews: No, I worked through my emotions for a solid three months. I was diagnosed January 2nd, when my scans were. So I pretty much started the year off with cancer and I had a very hard time accepting it. This is something and a topic that I’m very open about because I feel like too many people’s struggle with anxiety and depression and negative thoughts.
Sometimes it’s hard to understand if your feelings are deep within you or if it’s situational because of something that you’re going through. I was very aware that my anxiety and my depression, both were situational because of my diagnosis because I was going to lose my foot. So during that time, in order to function, I had two small kids at home at that point, I couldn’t even focus on helping people with health and wellness because I was so consumed with the idea of losing my mobility and going through that surgery. It’s a gut wrenching process, honestly. So I was highly medicated with the highest dose of antidepressants and the highest dose of anti-anxiety medicine I could possibly be on. I’ve never been somebody who was medicated for anything like that before. Again, I knew my situation was all based on my cancer, but I think it’s important for people to understand that sometimes you need help and that’s okay. So that’s one of the reasons why I’m very vocal about asking for help. If you require medication, that’s okay. Don’t become dependent on it obviously, and sometimes people need it to get through their day, but now I’m in a place where I’m not medicated anymore and I haven’t been for quite some time, but I think it’s important that when you go through something like this, that you are vocal about it because a lot of times people just feel so isolated and so alone in their emotions. And it’s because people are afraid to talk about it. And that’s one of the reasons why I’ve been very vocal about my stages of grief and you know, going through different medications and getting yourself through something that you really don’t think that you can survive, but then you do.
David Naylor: You bring up such a great point, Jen and I think you’re absolutely right. My brother-in-law sadly passed away from colon cancer here a few years ago.
Jenn Andrews: I’m so sorry.
David Naylor: I very much feel the well of emotions and you’re right. People want to be supportive. They don’t know what to do. They don’t know what to say. So you’re absolutely right. I’m curious because from the first time you and I had a chance to chat with one another, you’ve come across to me as a very positive, a very upbeat person. So what was it like for you, as you’re going on antidepressants and trying to go through, what was your experience with starting to take those?
Jenn Andrews: Honestly, it was not a good experience. I am, in my nature, a very happy, positive, social person and I was becoming this recluse, closed off, depressed version of myself, an anxious person and version of myself. I wasn’t myself and it was almost like I was losing myself in the process of losing my leg. And I just felt like I didn’t have any control over my life.
And so for me, trying to take these medications to kind of take the edge off was the only way that I knew how to help myself in a safe way. And I guess for me, what was so hard was that the medications obviously will help. I just wanted something to numb me, to numb my emotions and it does.
I mean, it makes it so you’re not happy. You’re not, well I was still sad no matter what, because obviously, no matter how high my dose was, nothing could completely take away the sadness, but at least got me through waking up in the morning and going downstairs and being with my kids and I cried a lot. I cried more in those three months then I think I’ve ever cried in my entire life. It was a lot.
David Naylor: So, were there people, I mean, obviously your family, your outreach, you were active as a health and wellness coach, so you had a lot of people around you, were there people that were reaching out to you, supporting you as you were going through this or did you kind of withdrawn from all of that at that point?
Jenn Andrews: You know, I think, and I’ve said this so many times in so many different interviews, the community of people that I have surrounded myself with is not the norm. The support that I’ve received is not the norm in a good way. And I’m so grateful for every single person who has reached out, sent a card, send a message, sent an email, brought dinner for our family, sent care packages, any kind of encouragement. The people that have supported me are incredible. And when I say people, it’s friends, it’s family, it’s strangers all over the world. I can kind of get into that a little bit more, but the support that I have received is not what most people receive. And I’m so aware of that, and I’m so grateful for the amount of support that I’ve been given during this whole process. So for being a health and wellness coach, I was highly focused on losing my mobility, and I didn’t know what that was going to look like. And I remember sitting in one of my appointments with my oncologist and through cracked voice and glassy eyes, I said, “Am I ever going to walk again?” Because I didn’t know anybody in a prosthetic, you know, I didn’t know anybody who lost a leg to cancer. None of that was part of my world. And he looks at me and smiles and he said, “Walk again? I hope you run again.” When he said that, it kind of triggered something in me. I didn’t know that that was an option. So one thing I should also say and there’s a reason, I’ll tell you another story about this later, but when I was deciding to lose my leg, I was offered a limb salvage option, but unfortunately it wasn’t a good option. So limb salvage is pretty much where you save your foot. But you’re saving something that really can’t be saved is the best way to explain it. So the limb salvage surgery would allow me to keep my foot. But they would strip it to the bone. They would remove muscle from my thigh and put it on top of my foot, and it would heal as an open wound, and then after it heals, I would have several different skin grafts done.
But in all of that, I would never walk properly. I would never run again. I would have to be very careful of the types of shoes that I wore because the skin on top of my foot would be so fragile that it would probably break down a lot and cause lots of pain. And the icing on the cake of the whole limb salvage surgery is that by amputating my leg, it reduced my cancer recurrence rate to 1 to 6% but the limb salvage surgery left me with a 50/50 and so in my mind, it wasn’t even an option to go through all of that. So I think it’s just important for people to know that that was presented to me, but in my mind, a 50/ 50 for all of that just wasn’t worth it. And to not be able to regain mobility and to have more mobility in a prosthetic versus carrying around something that really is a part of you that is useless, just wasn’t worth it to me.
David Naylor: So Jen, you mentioned, the lack of outreach there for other people who had been through something similar to you or other people who had faced amputation and so was that something that just wasn’t available, wasn’t offered? Because it would seem to me that having that resource there for somebody who’s facing that uncertainty, just having somebody who to some extent had been through a similar situation and could paint a little bit of the picture of what it looks like on the other side, would provide so much comfort. Was that not available?
Jenn Andrews: Well, it was to an extent, but it wasn’t, so you have to remember that sarcoma is rare, right? So the amount of people that lose a limb to sarcoma, they aren’t necessarily part of my immediate network. So I was set up with this woman, like a couple of weeks before my surgery, who was local, she was a below the knee amputee, and I was able to connect with her kind of once it was much closer to my surgery, but in the initial months leading up to it, I didn’t have any of those resources yet.
So I honestly wasn’t sleeping and I took to Instagram hashtags to find people that had been through what I was about to go through because I was so desperate for guidance. So I ended up finding this woman who happened to live in Cary, North Carolina, which is a really nice suburb right outside of Raleigh.
She was an ultra-runner. She ran 50 milers and 100 milers, and she was this like extreme version of an active amputee. But I saw in her profile that she was a sarcoma survivor. So I reached out to her at probably, I don’t know, three o’clock in the morning on a night where I wasn’t sleeping, and I just said, “You don’t know me, I live in Charlotte. I’m about to go through what you’ve been through and I don’t know anybody who’s been through anything like this. Would you be willing to talk with me?” And I fell asleep from exhaustion because I wasn’t sleeping and when I woke up, she had already responded and said, “Absolutely. Here’s my number. You call me.” And I did and she answered every single question that I had. She walked me through the entire process, what to expect, what to look out for. She was just such an incredible, tremendous resource for me. Then after our conversation, she kind of put me at ease that I would be getting back to things that I liked, but I don’t think I fully understood what that meant. The more I followed her profile and saw her pictures and how inspirational she was and how active she was and how she didn’t let her amputation limit anything that she did, it almost restored my faith in myself that that was going to be me too. I would get back to doing all of the things I did before.
David Naylor: Wow. How incredibly valuable that had to be, to be able to see that there was life on the other side and the things that you love to do or something that you would be able to get back to. I’m curious, what was that first conversation like with her? I mean, what advice did she give you? I mean, obviously she talked to you about kind of the physical aspect of it, but how did she help you from the mental side of it?
Jenn Andrews: You know, I think honestly, she answered just every concern that I had as far as pain management and what to expect, and I was so honestly, I was so medicated at the time when we had that first conversation that I don’t remember everything we discussed, but I remember how I felt after that conversation and that to me, shows how much she truly helped me. She really stuck with me through the whole process. I just kept thinking of her. And then the more, again, the more I followed her and the more I watched how she lived her life, it just was such an example for what the future could hold for myself. I actually was able to meet her for the first time a few weeks ago, and we can kind of talk about that in a little bit. But the woman who was local, she was a below the knee amputee, she lost her leg to sarcoma. We met, I want to say it was about two or three weeks before my surgery.
I was set up with her as a mentor. So we met in person. She walked into our meeting in skinny jeans and high heels, which was a right up my alley because I kept thinking, “I’m not going to wear high heels again.” That’s not true, by the way. You would never know. Her gait was so smooth.
She walked so smooth, and if you didn’t know, you would never know. I thought, wow, that’s incredible. So we sat and we completely hit it off. She was this great woman and after we sat and talked for almost three hours, I went home and she called me that evening and she said, “I loved meeting you. But I have to be honest with you. My sarcoma’s back.” All I could think about was how can somebody go through an amputation like she’s supposed to be okay, why is it back? Like I couldn’t wrap my head around how she went through such tremendous measures to become cancer free and eight years later it’s back.
Like how does that happen? I just couldn’t understand. And so the same week that I became a below the knee amputee, she became an above the knee amputee at the same hospital. So again, we kind of both became a resource for each other, which was good in a lot of ways. And to your point, with having resources and knowing people, so the beauty of my story kind of “going viral” and we can talk about how that kind of happened.
I know you mentioned in the introduction that my story was in “People” and it was in “Today” and “Runner’s World”. It’s great that that got shared, but the amazing part about it, and the reason I was so vocal about my situation was because I didn’t feel like I had those resources at my fingertips. I knew I wasn’t the only person going through sarcoma, going through amputation, who felt as alone and isolated as I felt because it just wasn’t part of my world. And by having my story out into the world, I was able to help so many other people in the last almost two years who were either diagnosed with sarcoma, getting ready to go through an amputation or maybe had an amputation, and they weren’t living to their full capacity because they didn’t realize what their capabilities were. We’ve almost created our own community of people. That’s been a really, really cool experience.
David Naylor: So, I started off the introduction with Charles Swindoll’s quote about “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” I think you showed that in what you did after losing your job when you were in late stages of being pregnant and pivoting to becoming a health and wellness coach. You’ve showed that in how you approached your cancer diagnosis and losing your foot.
So leads us up really well to what you just said, Jen and the Facebook video that you did, which, we’ll put a link to in the show notes, but it’s one of those videos where the first time I watched it, my eyes were welling up with your eyes. It’s just so real that you can see why it went viral. So lead us up to that. What prompted you to do that? And did you have any inkling that it would have anywhere near the response that that it did?
Jenn Andrews: No, not at all. Leading up to my surgery, probably two weeks before I had this idea. I was a health and wellness coach and all I could focus on was losing my leg. Like I was really struggling. So I had this idea to do this Facebook live video and I was requesting for others to go out and exercise in their favorite way on my surgery date and to remember that mobility is a gift and it’s something that a lot of us take for granted because it’s something that we’re born with.
Until it’s taken away, it’s something that really never would have crossed your mind. I mean, think about it. And you get out of bed in the morning, you put two feet on the floor, you walk to the bathroom to brush your teeth, you walk down the stairs to the kitchen, you just go about your day.
And it’s something that when you have it, you don’t realize you have it until it’s taken away. So in my Facebook live requests, I was asking people to go out and move on behalf of me on my surgery date and on behalf of everybody else who wanted to be more mobile but couldn’t be. Honestly, I had a really hard time leading up to it where I was just constantly crying throughout the day. So I promised myself the week before my surgery, I was going to get myself to a point where I thought I could sit and give my message for like five to ten minutes without crying through it. It’s so hard that you couldn’t understand what I was saying. For whatever reason on, I believe it was March 7th, I was feeling better that day then I had been feeling.
So I decided to do it and honestly, my intent was for it to go out to friends and family and my clients, and that was really it. I wasn’t expecting this to go global, so to speak, because I think at this point it has almost ninety-thousand views. So, the response was unreal.
I remember the comments and how heartfelt everything was. Watching that video now obviously is so hard because it does bring me back to a place that I never want to be again. But, I think it’s an important message that I think a lot of people needed to hear. And so after my surgery, I woke up and the first thing that my husband said to me was, “Get your phone.”
He didn’t even say like, “Are you okay? How are you doing?” He said, “Get your phone,” and I said, “I just woke up.” I haven’t even looked down. The covers were over my lap. You know? He said, “Get your phone.” So I got my phone and there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of posts and personal messages and emails and texts from people all over the world.
And I when I say all over the world, I had messages from people in the UK. I had messages from people in Australia and New Zealand. I had messages from people all over the U.S. and Canada, Asia, my story got shared. I mean, it was everywhere and these messages that people felt compelled to write to me, I mean, there were kids in dance classes holding up signs that said, “#moveforjenn”. There were people who dealt with severe depression who haven’t gotten off the couch in years and took their dog on a walk. They told me all about what that did for their mental health. I mean it just affected people for all different reasons. It was so not what I expected, but it was so impactful in such a positive way that honestly, the response I really, truly feel like, and my mom says the same thing, like just the amount of positivity that was sent to me because of that message really pulled me through my recovery.
David Naylor: Yeah. I can’t even quite imagine what the feelings and emotions you had to be feeling that first time you pulled back that sheet and you saw what your new leg looked like, but knowing that you’ve had that outpouring of positivity and warm regards from people around the world, I mean, it had to make that process easier, I would imagine.
Jenn Andrews: It did. It kind of almost just gave me something else to focus on, which was good. I needed that. I needed a distraction of like nonstop flowing positivity when I was in such a desperate state. So it really did refocus me. But I think part of my process, and I realize this now, is that as afraid as I was of losing my leg, I was also terrified of the actual procedure.
So, for me when I woke up, I was expecting to feel like really reclused and depressed and keep to myself. And it wasn’t that, it was almost like I woke up and I was so relieved that it was over and I could finally put my blinders on and move forward.
David Naylor: So, at what point after that did it hit you that you’ve started a movement, the “#moveforjenn” movement and that you had an opportunity to create something that was bigger than you, could really make a difference in the lives of other people who faced amputations and in the lives of other people who are facing different cancers, sarcomas and others. At what point in all of this did that hit you?
Jenn Andrews: So being a health and wellness coach, obviously being active was very important to me and in my mind I thought, okay, you know, once I heal, I’ll be fitted for a prosthetic. Then you put it on and you go about your life and that’s not how it works at all.
I was fitted pretty early, at four and a half weeks, which is pretty early on the process. I was healing really well, but you have to build up the tolerance and when I was at those initial appointments, I remember talking about wanting a running blade, and they were like, “Okay, well just to let you know, that’s extra.”
And I’m like, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying.” And they said, “Well, insurance won’t cover a running blade. It’s completely out of pocket, and it’s going to be between five and fifty-thousand dollars, and they’re going to last between three and five years, and then you’ll have to replace it.” So I remember sitting there thinking, “How on earth can the average family make that work?” Right? Fifty-thousand dollars for a running blade every three years sounds pretty astronomical. So I said to them, “So you mean to tell me that I want to get back to being really active and in turn, that’s going to improve my health, which is going to lower my other medical premiums, but insurance doesn’t support that?”
They said, “Pretty much,” so I remember going home completely perplexed about how that process works and how wrong it was. So when you’re an amputee, they classify you in four levels. K1 through K4, K4 being the most active. Depending on where you fall, depends on what insurance will cover. When I say what insurance will cover, I mean the type of regular foot that they will cover. So they have some feet that have more of like an ankle pivot. They have some better, just kind of like a block pretty much to get you from like, you know, the chair to the bathroom and back. Then they have some that kind of have more like torsion and movement, but again, it’s not something that you would run in.
They’ll cover one socket. I couldn’t wrap my head around how they don’t make a prosthetic that does everything, but they will only cover one thing. So how do most people go through their lives and have all of the feet that they need to do everything that they want to do when it’s all out of pocket?
So my husband and I started thinking about all of the families and for anybody who’s been through cancer, especially repeated cancer, it’s an expensive process. So you’re constantly meeting and exceeding your out-of-pocket max every year, for all the different tests you need, for all of the scans, whether you had surgery that year or not, all of your medications.
I mean, I was maxing out everything every year, since I had cancer. So we started thinking about all the families too with young kids. So many families have medical debt, which I’m very fortunate that I am not that family, but there are so many that do.
Could you imagine being a family that has medical debt and your child wants to run and you have to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t afford that.” I mean, every time I say that out loud, it makes my blood boil and it lights a fire inside me like nothing has before. So my husband and I said, “We need to figure out a way to help bridge the gap between what the average person needs and what insurance covers.”
That’s kind of how our foundation was born. So, because obviously #moveforjenn is what came out after my surgery and we were empowering people to move. Our slogan is to move because you can and be grateful for your mobility, of course. We co-founded our foundation, “The Move For Jenn Foundation” to help raise funds to cover the costs of active wear prosthetics.
When I say active wear prosthetics, I mean running blades, cycling knees, swimming feet, anything that insurance wouldn’t cover. Additional sockets, all of the liners and everything you would need to be fully outfitted to go do the activity that you are longing to do. We raise funds to cover that expense for people who lose a limb to sarcoma cancer or other affiliated disease. Then as we grow, we plan to also fund sarcoma research as well, because as I said, it’s a rare cancer without a cure and being that it makes up so much of the pediatric cancer world, it definitely needs more attention than it’s getting.
David Naylor: So Jen, you know, the timeline with which you’ve done what you’ve done is, is truly awe-inspiring. So March 12th, 2018, you had the surgery, you’re coming out of the surgery and you’ve got to, beyond just starting the foundation and doing all of the things that you did, you were really also kind of starting from scratch you and you had to reteach yourself how to walk. What was that experience like?
Jenn Andrews: It was difficult. You know, like I said, in my mind, I thought they just gave you a leg and you put it on and that was it. But it’s not that way. You have to rebuild a tolerance to how much pressure your leg can take. You have to desensitize because nerve endings and sensitivity is extremely high and you kind of have to work through a lot of that.
It’s a major process with massage and all of these exercises that you have to do. Honestly, it’s probably something that isn’t focused on as highly as it needs to be. But I was learning how to carry myself in a whole new capacity. And so before my surgery, I made two personal goals for myself. One was to walk unassisted without crutches before my birthday, my birthday was May 12th, so it was actually eight weeks after my amputation, I wanted to be walking without crutches.
David Naylor: Is that the typical recovery time for something like that?
Jenn Andrews: You know, I really didn’t know going into it, but that’s just the goal I set. But after meeting with other amputees and kind of seeing the process, no, I don’t think that my recovery and my process is the “normal.” But I think what’s also difficult is that when you look at statistics for amputees, I’m grouped with people who are geriatric patients, people who are diabetic and aren’t really that active. So it’s not even really a fair comparison to somebody who loses a limb like I lost my limb to somebody who lost their limb for, for other reasons, I feel like it’s not a fair assessment. So, as far as my timeline goes, I lost my leg on March 12th, I was fitted for my first prosthetic, four and a half weeks later, two days before my birthday on May 10th, I walked without crutches and I got rid of the crutches altogether, so I was able to meet that goal. Walking for about four weeks with crutches.
David Naylor: I’ve had knee surgery and I’ve spent time on crutches and it is a singular, miserable experience, using crutches. So what was that feeling like when you finally were able to let go of those crutches and begin to walk again?
Jenn Andrews: This is actually one of my favorite stories about my recovery, but I was in the kitchen and it was probably one of the first times I was home alone with both my kids for a short period of time, and they were sitting on a couch watching a movie, and my kitchen overlooks my living room, and I opened the dishwasher to put a dish away and I took out a plate and I walked across the kitchen with the plate and I opened the cabinet to put it away. And when I got to the cabinet, I realized that I walked from the dishwasher all the way across my kitchen, only holding the dish and I wasn’t holding a countertop or anything like that.
I was balancing. I literally walked on my own from the dishwasher across the kitchen to the cabinet and I was so excited. I put the dish away and I screamed for my kids. They turn around on the couch and I said, “You guys, look at this!” And I threw my hands in the air and I walked all the way across the kitchen and they were like, “Mommy, you’re walking by yourself!”
And they were cheering and they were so excited. It’s so funny cause at the time, you know, they were, I guess three and four. So, you know, it’s almost like a role reversal where your young kids are cheering you on versus you cheering them on. But, it was a really cool moment and I was definitely really happy to have met my goal.
I think too, when you can set a goal and really work towards something, it just helps. Like it keeps your focus on what you’re trying to accomplish, especially when you’re going through a hard time like I was going through, it’s so easy to kind of fall into these holes and feel all this loss and desperation. But when you can set these goals for yourself and really only focus on that, it kind of helps just propel you forward.
David Naylor: Well and what’s so neat is you think about what Hannah and Ari are learning through osmosis just watching you as you’ve gone through this experience and come back from it and done something bigger than perhaps you ever thought you would do as a result of it. What wonderful life lessons they will carry from this.
Jenn Andrews: Thank you. You know, I’m really, everyone thinks their kids are great, but really they are fantastic and I feel like so often people don’t give young kids enough credit for what they can understand and how they can be helpful and what they can process because obviously, you know, going through what our family went through, I couldn’t hide the emotion. So I sat them down and I was as honest with them as I could be in terms that they would understand from the get go. And the first thing my daughter said to me, and she was like four at the time, she said, “Mommy, I have such a great idea. How about we move all of the kid plates and the kid cups to a bottom cabinet so when Ari and I are thirsty or we’re hungry, we can get our own plate and our own cup?” And the fact that a four year old sat there when I was explaining to her that I wouldn’t be able to walk around as much and she was already processing things and ways for her to be helpful. I mean, I just remember sitting there, I just cried and I was just blown away by the thoughtfulness of a four year old.
David Naylor: Wow. Isn’t it Hannah who named your foot “the superhero foot”?
Jenn Andrews: Yes. She calls my foot “the superhero foot”, but actually it’s so funny because I remember picking them up at preschool one day, and it was before I had a prosthetic, so I just had a walker and I was missing my leg. I remember going in there and one of the kids said “Your foot’s gone,” and before I could even have a chance to respond, my daughter said, “My mom’s getting a superhero foot and a running foot and a swimming foot,” and she was just ready to just explain it all. But one of the coolest stories too, talking about just kind of life lessons for your kids and obviously, her coming up with the idea of moving the plates and cups was just awesome, but my daughter is not my athletic one. My son is like, by nature, he’s good at all sports, but my daughter is not as active and into all that. She likes art and other things. But her school last year in kindergarten had a “Fun Run” and they had to run, I think, thirty-five laps. And I remember thinking like, “I wonder if she’s going to complete all the laps? I wonder if she’ll just get tired and not want to do it?”
So I was expecting her to do maybe like ten to fifteen and she pushed through and did all 35 laps and she came up to me afterwards and she was just beaming with pride and she said, “Mommy, I did all the laps and you know what? I didn’t give up.” It makes me cry talking about it.
But the fact that she saw that in what I was focusing on, what I was doing, like she had witnessed me not giving up for a whole year and just really pushing hard and then she had the chance where she could have given up, but she didn’t. She pushed on and she knew that she didn’t give up and she worked hard for her accomplishment. It was such a cool moment. I remember leaving the school and I just sat in my car and bawled my eyes out because I was just so proud of her.
David Naylor: Wow. It’s incredible, the ripple effect that our words and our actions have. You look at your kids and so often you think they don’t notice those things, but they do. So what a wonderful example you’ve set in what you’ve done for them. So, wow, that’s fantastic. So, you set the goal to be able to walk by, was it your 34th birthday?
Jenn Andrews: Yes.
David Naylor: But that wasn’t the only goal that you set. What was the other goal that you set?
Jenn Andrews: So I wanted to be able to run a 5k before the end of the year, and I didn’t really know what that meant, but shortly after I started walking, so I received my first walking foot in April. I was walking by myself in May and then in, I want to say it was late July or August, I received a running blade from a company that’s now called “Blatchford”. They gifted a running blade to me. I was so excited. My son was so excited. As soon as I got it and I came home, I think he raced me in the driveway for a solid hour and a half. He was just so excited and he was so proud of me, which was such a cool moment.
But I had four weeks to train for this 5K race and there’s a foundation that’s local to Charlotte called the “Isabella Santos Foundation” and their focus used to be strictly neuroblastoma, but now it’s focused on rare pediatric cancer. Sarcoma also obviously falls under that rare pediatric cancer.
They do amazing work here. Amazing, amazing work. I mean, I really can’t speak highly enough of this group of people and this foundation because they are just phenomenal people. So when I was asked if I would make their race my first race and their race was scheduled for September, without question, I said yes.
So I guess it was mid-August when I received the blade. So I had, I think it was like five weeks to train for this race, and I had never run in a running blade before. So I was going to physical therapy and I said, “All right, I have a running blade now, I want to run.” So we started this running plan and it was hard because it’s a lot of pressure on your leg.
It’s using your body in a whole new capacity. Running is not the same as walking because a running blade has spring to it where a regular walking foot doesn’t. So it was a process, but we were able to bring one hundred and thirty-seven people on our team to that race who ran with me. I completed the whole race, no stopping. My oncologist who saved my life, ran the race next to me. My family flew in from New York and Florida and all over, all of my best friends were there and it was just a very, very cool moment. So I was able to complete that goal six and a half months postop.
David Naylor: Wow. Yeah. So here you are, nine months after your initial diagnosis and you’re looking at, what is my life going to be? You’re running across the finish line after doing a 5k, the feeling of that had to be just so, so incredible. I can’t even imagine.
Jenn Andrews: It was amazing. I remember when we turned the corner and I saw the finish line, which was still, you know, a little ways away, I just remember feeling so overwhelmed with emotion and I was trying so hard not to cry, but I couldn’t hold it in and I was running and working so hard the whole race to just really pace myself because I was not going to allow myself to walk, it was not an option. So I was so highly focused on pacing myself, and then I realized that the end, I still had a lot of steam left in me, and I remember I’m a girlfriend of mine, said, “Run it out, run it out!” and you can actually hear it on the video of me finishing. I took my headphones out and I just booked it through the finish line and it was just the best feeling of accomplishment because I kind of proved that anything’s possible.
David Naylor: So, coming out of the race at this point, there’s a quote that I saw, from Dr. Patt, the physician, you had said that, “I know I’m a mess right now, but eventually I’m going to be all right and I want to be the one you send your patients to when they’re in this situation and they need someone to talk to.” Which is, you know, such a wonderful quote, but it kind of speaks to that vision of you want to be able to be the one who can make a difference in the lives of others who are going through that similar situation. So how did you go from running that race to sponsoring your own race that happened here a few weeks ago?
Jenn Andrews: So with kind of the timeline, we launched our nonprofit in May. We gave our first grants to the local fireman in December of 2018. We surprised him with a running blade and a socket.
So that was really exciting to give our first grants. I worked really hard on doing smaller fundraisers throughout the year. Once the new year started, we were doing at least one or one or two a month. We were doing a lot of smaller events and your first year of fundraising is really a learning curve because you learn what events really are worth it and which ones maybe you won’t duplicate. So, it was an interesting year, but I knew I wanted to do a race and obviously running and being mobile is such a big part of my story. So we do a lot of fitness events anyways, and they have all been pretty successful.
So I knew we wanted to do a race, and I remember. So I guess one thing too, with starting a foundation, you know, we didn’t have this huge financial backing for the foundation when we first started. So, one thing I would love to mention after we brought one hundred and thirty-seven people to the race that I ran for the first time, the foundation that hosted the event ended up taking the three thousand dollar profit from my team and they donated it back to #moveforjenn foundation. So that was like some of our initial funding, obviously with other donations that kind of got us started. So we didn’t realize going into it, how much does it cost to put on a race and what does that entail? So we kind of went back and forth for a little while and finally we became 501(c)(3) in February. So at that point we knew we would be able to get good corporate sponsors and we just said, “We need to go for it.” So it was probably in the spring we met with a local race company that hosts a lot of the races around here and they kind of help manage the race.
They help with the permits and all the logistics. But everything else is obviously up to the organization as far as fundraising, bringing on sponsors, getting volunteers, and essentially building your event. So we decided that we were going to do an event and we wanted a theme. So my husband and I went back and forth and came up with a million ideas and we ended up coming up with “Pajamas All Day 5k”. We thought, let’s have an event that’s really fun. That’s great for families. People can bring kids out. I wanted a whole expo and my goal of this race was, I didn’t want this to be my first race. I wanted this to just be a great race. So I worked really, really hard, probably harder than I’ve ever worked before meeting with different sponsors and meeting with different companies and the outpouring of support that I had since day one really helps kind of set the foundation for a lot of these relationships. Some of them, obviously I had, you know, from years and years past, Lincoln Financial, I can’t speak highly enough of them.
They actually went out and walked on my surgery date as an office and they actually made the local news. So that was pretty cool. But they became a title sponsor for us, and it was so special because not only are they this fantastic group of people, this great company, but to have them like really be a part of such a monumental moment with the foundation was just really special.
“Vacations To Go”, which is a global company, they also were a title sponsor for us as well. And then we just kind of started building out. We wanted it to be a really fun experience, whether you came alone solo, whether you had kids, whether you didn’t have kids. We just wanted to create an environment that was welcoming to everyone.
So we had a 5K race, we had a kids “Fun-Run”, and then we had the whole expo. My goal was to really give value to the people who were investing in me. So I wanted to create a lot of foot traffic. So we had different food vendors there, which obviously created people walking around and wanting to grab something after the race.
We had “AR Workshop”, which is a national DIY company. The woman who founded the franchise actually is local and she did like a whole DIY booth where people were doing different art projects. We had a local bar called “Grape and Agave”, they are a wine and tequila bar and they did a whole mimosa bar for us. We had the option where people could buy the mimosas.
For the “Kid’s Zone”, we had petting zoos, we had dog rescues. We had bounce houses and superheroes and video game trucks. It was just such an incredible morning. But my favorite part of the morning is that the two women, two of the women that I told you about earlier, the woman who became an above the knee amputee the same week that I became a below the knee amputee and then the woman from Cary, North Carolina, we presented both of them with surprise grants because they had applied with us. So, Karen, the woman who became an above the knee amputee the week that I became a below the knee amputee because of her recurrence with sarcoma, was not able to run anymore. So after she became an above the knee amputee, she opted for what’s called “ICO Integration” and it’s only done in California and other parts of the world. But it’s essentially where they surgically implant the prosthetic to your body because her quality of flip sockets and other things had declined and she wasn’t able to be as active.
So in turn with going through this process of it enhancing the rest of your life, you have to give up running forever. A few weeks before our race, she did her first race in a borrowed racing wheelchair and absolutely loved it and it restored everything she loved about running back in her. She had called me asking for a recommendation letter for another foundation to fund a wheelchair for her.
So I said, “I can do that and I’m happy to do it, but maybe you should also think about applying locally. I’d love to bring you up in my next board meeting,” and just left it at that. Of course, I knew in my mind, we were going to fund her. So we surprised her the morning of the race with a racing wheelchair, hot pink, that was going to be delivered to her door.
So that was really exciting. Then Jackie, the woman from Cary, North Carolina, we were able to surprise her with a one of a kind custom trail running blade the morning of the race. I was able to meet her for the first time.
So it was really cool to have so many different people who helped me in different capacities, to be able to have that full circle moment and help them back.
David Naylor: What was it like to meet her for the first time? I mean, you know, you go back to that, you know, the three o’clock in the morning search on Instagram where you found her, the conversation that she had where she was able to walk you through the experience and give you a little bit of peace of mind amongst the storm of uncertainty. What was it like to meet her for the first time, but also to be able to give her that gift, what was that moment like for you?
Jenn Andrews: It was great. I really, honestly don’t think that she fully understood the impact that she had on me. So when I was doing the announcements and welcoming everybody and thanking our sponsors, I explained to the crowd and everybody that for me, it was really important for everyone to see where their money went. And obviously, you sign up for a race, you pay thirty to forty dollars and you’re there for a good time. But what happens to those funds? And if you make a donation to an organization, like where does that money go?
And I really wanted people to feel the impact of that firsthand. So I explained the story of how she and I connected and I don’t think that she fully grasped how much she impacted me in such a way that it really helped, again, just like my doctor refocused me and I realized I was going to be okay.
The really cool part about Jackie is that we actually partnered with another nonprofit called “Amputee Blade Runners”, they’re based out of Nashville, Tennessee. They essentially do what we do a little bit, but their focus is all active amputees and they help fund active wear prosthetics, and they work with highly, highly, highly active amputees.
So they do things with Paralympic athletes and just amazing people. And so they contacted us and said, “If we do the labor, would you want to fund the project?” And without question I said yes, because Jackie was the ultimate person that I would love to help.
They actually ended up also funding a project to help me, which was amazing. So Jackie and I were actually able to travel together to Nashville last week when we were working on making her new socket and getting her custom running blade fit. So last week I was really able to spend more time with her versus the day of the race, which obviously is always hard because when there’s over a thousand people there, your time together is so limited.
David Naylor: Fantastic. So, Jen, let me ask you this. Coming through this whole experience, you’ve had an incredible two years and reflecting back, what have been the big lessons, the golden nuggets that you’ve gained through this whole experience?
Jenn Andrews: I guess I would say, going back to your quote that you started with, you know, a lot of people ask me frequently, “Do you believe everything happens for a reason?” I’m not that person. I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. I don’t believe that I was destined to have cancer and lose my leg and do what I’m doing now.
I think that you can’t control what happens to you, but you can control your reaction. And I think it’s very easy to fall into these holes of despair and heartbreak and fall victim to things that you can’t control that happened in your life. But when you allow yourself the time to grieve, which you need to do, the key is to not letting yourself sit in that space too long.
I really have made a point to live my life in a positive way and only focus on things that propel me forward and that benefit my life. So again, if I was somebody who was constantly reflecting on what was lost and what I can’t do and how hard my life is, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
I wouldn’t have funded however many people to be walking, running, cycling, and doing all those things. Again, I wouldn’t have helped over the phone, mentoring a woman in Alabama, a woman in California, a woman in Florida and some other folks who have gone through sarcomas or amputation and just, you know, losing a limb for other reasons.
So I feel like if you can use your story to grow and help other people, then there’s good in that, even when it’s a bad situation, your mindset is everything and you have to just keep moving forward.
David Naylor: Wow. What wonderful words, so Jen, if there’s any one thing you could leave our listeners with today, a takeaway from the conversation. What would it be?
Jenn Andrews: Probably that what happens in your life doesn’t define you. You know, we all have choices. We can’t choose what happens to us, but we can choose what we do with our story. The only limitations that you have on yourself are the ones that you put on yourself. Other people can’t put limitations on you and tell you what you can or can’t do.
You’re the one who makes the call. And when you have an open mind and a positive mindset, there really are no limitations.
David Naylor: Jen Andrews, you are an inspiration. I am honored to have had the opportunity to spend this conversation with you. I wish you the very, very best in the “#moveforjenn” movement that you have started and for all of the help that you will provide to people in the days, weeks, and years ahead. So, Jen, thank you so much for being with us today.
Jenn Andrews: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
*Transcription was edited for clarity
About Jenn & Miles
Jenn was getting a pedicure in 2013 when she was pregnant with her first child. During that pedicure, the nail tech discovered a pea-sized nodule on top of her right foot. She had a physician check it, only to be told it was a ganglion cyst. In 2014, while pregnant with her second child, that pea-sized nodule grew to a golf ball size mass.
Post-delivery of her second child, she was scanned and biopsied, only to show the mass was benign. Surgery to remove the mass was still recommended due to the size and location of the mass. On December 3, 2014, the mass was removed. Pathology went on to prove that this benign cyst was actually not benign, but a low-grade myxoid sarcoma. Due to the location, a second surgery to ensure clean margins was not an option, so she chose to be watched.
She went on to have scans of her right foot and lungs as recommended for the next 3 years. She remained clear until January 2, 2018, when scans revealed cancer had returned as a thin layer on top of her entire right foot. After seeking multiple opinions, amputation was the only option to give her the best chance at a cancer-free life.
On March 7, 2018, Jenn did a Facebook live video requesting friends and family to move for her and those who physically can’t on her surgery date. This request unknowingly became a movement. So, on March 12, 2018, Jenn became cancer free, and the social media world flooded with #moveforjenn and #movebecauseyoucan posts globally. People all over the world were sharing posts with all forms of exercise in honor of Jenn and her request. This movement led her to realize that being an amputee, and someone who wanted to remain active, would be difficult without ample means of funding. Most insurance providers will only cover one prosthetic per person, if that.
Jenn’s mission of helping other sarcoma amputees was born when she and her husband, Miles realized the financial burden of being a young, and active amputee. Everyone should have the right to be active and/or run. Child or adult. Jenn and Miles plan to help ease that financial burden for as many individuals as they can.
3:26- Life After College
5:55- Noticing A Difference
7:40- No Sign of Cancer
8:58- The Diagnosis
11:00- Check-up Appointments
18:04- The Tumor Board
19:26- Dealing With Emotions
28:02- Lack of Outreach and then Reaching Out
35:06- The Facebook Video that Went Viral
41:14- Making a Difference
45:14- Move for Jenn Foundation
46:19- Re-learning How to Walk
49:12- Finally Walking Again
53:26- Hannah’s Positive attitude
54:58- Running a 5k
58:36- Sponsoring her own race
1:08:13- Golden Nuggets
1:11:59- Final thoughts and the takeaway
39:15- Conclusion/final thoughts