Jenn Andrews made national news when, while getting a pedicure, her pedicurist noticed a pea-sized bump on her foot, which was later found to be a cancerous tumor. Last year, when the cancer came back a second time, the 34-year-old Charlotte, NC, wife and mother of two chose to have her foot amputated. Just a few months later, the health and wellness coach was running a 5K on a special running blade. When she realized other amputees couldn’t afford running blades, she and her husband (her high school sweetheart) started Move For Jenn, a nonprofit that helps amputees afford or obtain prosthetics in order to help them more quickly regain strength and mobility after amputation. We’re honored to introduce you to today’s FACE of the South, Jenn Andrews.
What’s the biggest change in your life since you had your foot amputated?
I feel like my whole life has changed. Definitely the amount of time it takes to do things is my biggest change. Getting ready in the morning takes me longer than it did before. I think it’s one of those weird things where when you get hurt, have an injury or a surgery, and you wait through recovery to get better. Obviously, I have healed and things are getting easier as I find new ways to do things, but in my situation, you don’t just “get better.” You have to find your new normal.
You have young kids — Hannah is 5, Ari is 4. How did you handle talking to them about all that you were going through?
Talking to my kids about my cancer and amputation was hard. Not so much in the explanation, but more in the emotion for me. They were very receptive, and I tried to be as honest with them as I could, in terms they would understand. Their whole lives I have had scans, doctor appointments and three surgeries. I think kids are very receptive, compassionate and understanding. They can understand more than most adults give them credit for. I think our experience taught them independence, perseverance and strength. I also think their view of others with differences or challenges is one of the positive things that has come out of my situation. They aren’t phased, and they see the person for what they are … a person!
What has surprised you most about the journey so far?
The saying, “You don’t know how truly strong you are, until you have to be”? That is 100 percent true! I went from despair and depression in the beginning to feeling empowered and pushing for more, and the journey has allowed me to prove to myself that regardless of what life throws at me, I am strong enough to handle it.
Where did the idea for Move For Jenn come from?
As a health and wellness coach, I am constantly pushing myself to live a healthy lifestyle and inspire others to do the same. A few weeks before my scheduled surgery, I had this idea to do a Facebook Live, requesting others to go out and “move because you can” on my surgery date. Being able to walk, to run, to move your body is a gift. Life is fragile, and your circumstances can change quickly and unexpectedly. My video was intended for friends and family. Little did I realize, it would reach 86,000 people. My request became a movement, and when I woke up from my surgery on that Monday morning, there were hundreds of posts from people across the world with the hashtag #moveforjenn out walking, playing with their kids, running with the dogs, taking classes. It was incredible! I remember sitting in my hospital bed reading these heartfelt messages from others who knew me and didn’t, who genuinely cared about my wellbeing and felt empowered to fulfill my request. I had messages from complete strangers who battled with depression and explained how they haven’t exercised in over a year, and my message helped them get up, start moving and how much that helped their mental health.
A few months post-op, we realized that activewear prosthetics are not covered by insurance and are 100 percent out-of-pocket. These can range anywhere from $5,000-$50,000 and the prosthetic can last three to five years. This broke me knowing how many others out there were in my position physically but couldn’t afford the tools to remain active. My husband Miles and I decided to start the Move for Jenn Foundation to bring more awareness to sarcoma, to fund grants for activewear prosthetics for amputees who lose a limb to sarcoma and other affiliated diseases, and as we grow, we will also offer research grants as well.
You recently rewarded your first prosthetic. What was that like to be able to do that?
Giving our very first running blade to another sarcoma survivor was incredible. I know firsthand what it feels like to be young, active and have your mobility taken away from you. When the prosthetic manufacturer decided to gift a running blade to me, I remember that feeling of freedom and happiness that ran through my entire body the first time I was able to run on it. They gave me a piece of myself back after cancer stole it. I knew in my heart, I was doing the same for Jacob, the 20-year-old firefighter who lost his leg — and his livelihood — to cancer. A few weeks after we gave it to him, he sent me a video of him running for the first time. I watched it on repeat, uncontrollably sobbing. I knew this impact was bigger than I could have ever imagined. Now I am ready to hit the ground running with fundraising to fulfill the other applications that have been submitted to us. I want to help as many people as I can!
What’s next for you?
I have a lot in the works for myself and the foundation, and it is exciting! One thing I have learned about myself this year, after having the opportunity to tell my story, is I love speaking. I have recently had the opportunity of being a guest speaker on several podcasts, a panel for a conference, and I am speaking at schools. I have a message that can truly help someone else, and I feel that is my purpose after going through everything I endured in 2018. I am also in the process of writing my first book, which I am really excited to share with the world when it is completed. As for the foundation, I am working on some smaller fundraisers, as well as our first big 5K race, scheduled for later this year. I am really excited to host this big event.
What’s been the most challenging part of this journey?
The most challenging for me was/is saying goodbye to my old self. That person is gone, and I can never get her back. It’s hard and sad in a sense to lose yourself . But at the same time, I also know how much I have persevered and am proud of the new person I have become.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given and from whom?
Never put limits on yourself or allow anyone else to either. You are capable of anything and everything, even when there are obstacles in your view. Mindset is everything.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what three things can’t you live without?
I can’t live without my pups (I have three), my running blade (because running gives me the feeling of freedom) and a positive attitude (because without it, what’s the point?). And wine, I love a good Oregon Pinot Noir.
Meet more amazing Southern women in our FACES archives. Click HERE and prepare to be inspired.