A 33-year-old mother of two is recovering from surgery after doctors amputated her right leg below the shin after she discovered a cancerous tumor in her foot during a pedicure.
Jenn Andrews, who is mom to daughter, Hannah, 4, and son, Ari, 3, was pregnant with her daughter in 2013 when her pedicurist noticed a pea-sized nodule on the top of her right foot while she was massaging it.
“I had never noticed it before and didn’t think much of it. Because I was pregnant, I didn’t really do much about it,” Andrews says.
But by the time the Charlotte-based health and wellness coach gave birth to her second child, she finally had it removed and tested — and learned it was cancerous.
Doctors diagnosed Andrews with a rare, slow-growing tumor, known as a low-grade myxoid sarcoma – a cancerous mass – that has the potential to spread and can ultimately be deadly.
The busy mom continued to go in regular checkups after the she had the tumor removed, and in January, her doctor discovered it had grown back.
The Andrews family
“He said if I never want to deal with it again I’d have to lose my right foot – and I didn’t hear a word he said after that,” Andrews recalls.
Dr. Joshua Patt, an orthopedic oncologist at Levine Cancer Center, says it was a difficult conversation for him as well because of his own personal journey. He chose his career path after seeing his aunt face a similar illness- she had to have her leg amputated because of cancer.
He told Andrews, “You should think about your children and watching your kids walk down the aisle and if that’s the most important thing in your life, then you should have an amputation.”
Andrews says choosing to amputate was the hardest decision she’s ever made and admits there were a lot of tears in the process. She and her husband Miles – her high school sweetheart – spent a lot of late nights talking about her options.
Jenn and her husband Miles
“I did this because I love life. I’m not one to miss out on life. I have a 3-year-old and a 4-year-old who I love more than you can love someone else and the idea of them growing up without me just broke my heart. Anything I could do to be there for them, I was willing to do — and that’s what I did,” she says.
She also decided she wanted to find some way to turn her experience into something positive.
Patt remembers Andrews saying through tears in his office, ”I know I am a mess right now, but eventually I am going to be alright and I want to be the one you send your patients to when they are in this situation and need someone to talk to.”
As a health and wellness coach, she took things one step further, making an emotional Facebook video asking people to #MoveforJenn on the day of her surgery on March 12, saying she wanted them to get out and move because they still could.
The video has more than 80,000 views and while she was in surgery, people across her hometown and beyond were tagging pictures on social media using the hashtag #MoveForJenn as they got out and walked, ran — anything to show their support
Katie Covington, who has been Andrews best friend since college, says, “Jenn is always the person who is uplifting, she puts everyone else before herself and it was so cool to see all these random people come though for her. I couldn’t believe it.”
Andrews too was blown away by the response. “When I woke up from surgery my Facebook and Instagram was flooded with #MoveForJenn posts and I can’t put into words what it meant to me to see that so many people got moving.”
Now Andrews is waiting to get her first prosthetic foot – she’s already been to her first fitting and hopes to take her first few steps in the coming days. And she’s already set a goal of running a 5k by the end of the year.
She’s hoping to get a running blade and a foot that can get wet. Friends have started this GoFundMe account to offset what insurance will cover.
Covington tells PEOPLE, “I know she’s going to do so much good through this. She can’t wait to start helping other people.”
Andrews says she’s just hoping her kids will adjust to mom’s new normal.
“One thing I’ve instilled I them is that I’m not gonna look the same, but I’m still the same mom,” she says. “They know I’m still their number one and I always will be.”