Jenn Andrews crossed the finish line of the Isabel Santos Foundation 5k amid chants of support and a few tears. The emotion was understandable. Just six months before, her foot had been amputated after a rare cancer diagnosis, and she wasn’t sure that she’d ever run again.

News | 5 years ago

From a Foot Amputation to 5K in Six Months

Jenn Andrews is a fitness buff who lost her foot after a rare cancer diagnosis. Now she’s back to doing what she loves most – staying active – and she’s learning just how resilient she is.

The finish line at the 2018 Isabel Santos Foundation 5k got a little rowdy. For that, you can blame Jenn Andrews.

But first, you’d have to find her. Surrounding Jenn during the run were her family, friends and even her doctor, Joshua Patt, MD, running in a pack of support. But in the final stretch, Jenn emerged to run ahead alone, as her support squad screamed and cheered her from behind. With a determined stride and a few tears streaming down her cheeks, Jenn ran through the finish line.

It wasn’t the first time Jenn had run five kilometers. But it was the first time she had done so since getting her foot amputated just six months prior.

Jenn's journey to the finish line

Know this about Jenn: She loves a goal.

There are other things to know about Jenn, like how she’s a fitness buff and an active mom, much happier staying in motion than staying still. When she learned that she had cancer – myxoid sarcoma, which is rare and potentially life-threatening – and it could only be cured by amputating her foot, it was a daunting time. How could she retain her active life after an amputation, running after her children and meeting her friends for exercise classes? It was an intimidating thought.

But here’s another thing to know about Jenn: She’s got a formidable spirit.

“Jenn is very, very motivated. She came in and she told me, ‘I’m running a 5k,’” says Will Freres, PT, her physical therapist at Atrium Health’s Carolinas Rehabilitation. “All the time, patients come to me with their goals, and I want to be a coach and somebody who’s going to help them meet those goals.”

Freres and Jenn began with the basics. Before she could run, she needed to relearn how to walk. It’s no small thing to learn how to walk with a prosthetic, to teach ones body to bear weight in a new way. Jenn’s work began with balance. Then gait. Slowly, Freres’s sessions advanced. One day, Jenn showed up and he handed her a new piece of exercise equipment.

“When he handed me a jump rope, I looked at him like he had five eyes,” Jenn says. “But I did it. I did it on my first try, and I was so excited.”

Freres says that the best traits for people to have during successful physical therapy are a positive mindset, a belief that the therapy will work, and a confidence that’s stronger than fear. Jenn had all of these. Their workouts in the new Atrium Health practice at the Dowd YMCA gave them options for many type of physical therapy sessions: Sometimes they’d use the gym in the Atrium Health practice, and other times they’d hit the weight room or rooftop track.

Within a few weeks, Jenn was jogging and even jumping on a trampoline. Her endurance increased until she was ready for the 5k.

“It would be my first race since my surgery, and I wanted to run the whole thing – no stopping, no walking,” Jenn says. “It was so important for me to meet that goal.”

And meet it she did. That race day became one of her favorite days.

Setting new goals

Jenn is now cancer-free. She has scans every six months, which will continue for a few more years. After that, her scans will be annual. Even though the news has remained positive since her surgery, each scan is still a scary experience.

“Anytime I’m gearing up for a scan, I get something called ‘scanxiety,’” she says. “I think it’ll always be that way, and that’s OK. Everyone gets scared, and that’s normal. The key is not allowing it to take over my everyday life.”

What’s stronger than her fear is her confidence, which has allowed her to create three new goals. First, she wants to add published author to her list of accomplishments; she’s in the midst of writing her first book. She’s also building a non-profit, the Move for Jenn Foundation, to increase sarcoma awareness and to solicit grants for athletic blades for sarcoma amputees, which aren’t covered by health insurance.  And her third goal is to run another race. Next time, it’ll be a 10k.

“One thing I’ve learned from this whole process is never to let anyone put limitations on you, especially yourself,” Jenn says. “We all think we can’t do things so we don’t try to do them. But when you put yourself out there, even when you try and don’t make it the first time, you realize just how strong you are.”