Jennifer Strain is a native Memphian, wife, nonprofit fundraiser, fur mom, and breast cancer survivor.
On New Year’s Day in 2019, Jennifer and her husband, Chris, a freelance graphic designer, were enjoying the day off by binge-watching holiday movies and planning their bucket-list trips to celebrate their upcoming 50th birthdays in July.
Jennifer felt something on her breast that was itchy and irritating. “I had a 3D mammogram two months prior, so I figured it would have appeared on the mammogram then, but my husband encouraged me to get it checked out anyway,” Jennifer explains.
Thankfully, she did. A tumor was detected and biopsied that same day. Just three days later, the lab results came back. Jennifer had HER2-positive breast cancer.
Receiving a Diagnosis
“When I was diagnosed, I didn’t realize there were different types of breast cancer and chemotherapies,” Jennifer says. She learned quickly, starting chemotherapy in March 2019. The treatment worked. The tumor began to shrink, and the cancer didn’t spread to her lymph nodes.
“I’m just so grateful for early detection and research. Without the advancements in targeted drugs that are now available, I probably wouldn’t be here,” Jennifer adds. A few months later, Jennifer then had a lumpectomy and underwent radiation.
Jennifer continued working in nonprofit fundraising throughout her treatment, working from the West Cancer Center’s chemo room during the hours-long treatments. “I was lucky, I never felt sick during chemo, so I kept busy with work,” she shares.
She completed her last infusion in April 2020. “When my personal pandemic ended, the global pandemic began,” she explains. There was no bell ringing party, balloons, or family and friends gathered on her final day of treatment – just a quiet ending to a deeply impactful chapter. Jennifer laughs, “It turned out exactly the way I wanted it. I didn’t want to give my breast cancer more attention than it deserved!”
“Cancer is a mental challenge as well as a physical challenge,” Jennifer says. “At the beginning of treatment, I knew I had to keep a positive mindset and stay mentally strong, so I started a journal where I listed everyone I knew who had survived cancer. It included family members and friends, acquaintances, and even celebrities. It comforted me to write their names down and draw strength from their experiences. If they could make it through, I could, too.”
Jennifer has spent most of her career working for nonprofit organizations. However, in December 2021, she took on her most meaningful role yet as a special initiatives manager for the West Cancer Foundation. She manages fundraising efforts for the foundation’s research, education, and community outreach programs.
This year, Jennifer’s efforts leading the West Fight On event raised over $550,000 for the West Cancer Foundation. “During committee meetings, I was surrounded by cancer survivors who run and bike to raise money for the foundation. They inspired me to get back into exercise after my diagnosis,” she shares.
“One of the first thoughts after my diagnosis was that I hadn’t done enough to make the world a better place. Now, with my work at the West Cancer Foundation, I know I’m doing that,” Jennifer says.
Fit for Life
Jennifer stepped away from exercise during her treatment but has recommitted to exercising thanks to inspiration from fellow cancer survivors. She works out at OrangeTheory Fitness four to five times per week.
“I didn’t realize how much strength and endurance I had lost until I got it back. Working out makes you stronger physically, but it also makes you stronger mentally,” she explains.
Jennifer continues, “It may sound surprising, but cancer was a blessing for me. God used it to redirect my path toward the West Cancer Foundation so I could truly make the world – or at least my little piece of it here in Memphis – a better place.
By Morgan Stritzinger
Photo by Chris Strain