Cancer touches the lives of so many individuals in our community. Our neighbors, friends, family – all of us know someone or have personally experienced this disease. For Jen Byrne, cancer was not a thought in her mind as an active runner living a healthy lifestyle. Having supported her younger sister through a breast cancer diagnosis, Jen was keenly aware of the warning signs of cancer. After an afternoon run in 2016 Jen felt a lump in her breast at only 39 years old, and knew that she too would now be fighting breast cancer.
Jen is a Colorado native and attended Green Mountain High School. Throughout her life, Jen has been an athlete and was able to channel this passion into her career as a track coach. She has been coaching for 10 years now, and is in her 5th season as head coach for track and 6th season as the head coach for cross country at Golden High School. The day she found a lump in her breast was the first day of the state track meet. Everyone on the team was wearing pink that day in honor of Jen’s sister, and she knew she would soon have to inform her students that she too was going to be battling breast cancer. After her biopsy, Jen learned she had stage 1 ductile carcinoma. To fight her cancer, Jen had a bilateral mastectomy at Lutheran Medical Center performed by Dr. Juhi Asad and later, Dr. Richard Mochantat provided reconstructive surgery.
Through her cancer journey, Jen felt supported by friends, family and especially her extended running family. After her surgery, the Runners Roost Race Team helped brighten her spirits by making meals and helping her get back to walking. Jen’s good friends Angela Kuehn and Jared Conlin helped to lighten her spirits through this experience. Angela accompanied Jen during her first surgery and supported her every step of the way. Jared helped motivate Jen to run again and organized a team and special resources for her to be able to run the Silver Rush in Leadville in 2017. “This half marathon, marathon and 50 mile race helped bring me back to the world of running. Running in this race helped me find my strength again,” Jen reflected. Jen even went on to run in the 2017 Heroes of Hope race at Lutheran Medical Center and won the top overall prize in the 10K race that year.
Her cross country team at Golden High School was intimately aware of her diagnosis and experience, and her students wanted to do something to help others going through an experience like coach Jen. In 2018, her students started the Pink Project for Patients, a fundraising project to help patients going through cancer treatment. The team created pink shirts featuring the names of all high schools in Jefferson Country and sold the shirts and pink ribbons at track meets. At one meet, there were over 100 of these pink shirts in the audience! In January 2019 the students donated a check for $1,108.20 to Lutheran’s cancer services programs to help patients in need and had the opportunity to visit with patients in the Infusion Center, giving each patient a card with words of encouragement and small items to help them during their treatments. The team plans to grow the Pink Project this year, create a team to run in the Heroes of Hope run/walk on June 1 to further support the cause.
On April 15, 2019 Jen ran in the Boston Marathon – one of Jen’s running dreams, a dream that was delayed by cancer but is now finally fulfilled. After Boston, Jen looks forward to running in the 2019 Heroes of Hope race at Lutheran and celebrating with other cancer survivors. We’ll have to keep a look out for the Feel the Byrne team and their pink shirts!