Jenny Hansen: Two-time survivor, first-time Obliterider

‘I am so thankful there are people out there who aren’t afraid of cancer, who pursue it’
Jenny Hansen with her bicycle
Jenny Hansen with "Kent," her bicycle Photo courtesy of Jenny Hansen

Jenny Hansen’s ovarian cancer was aggressive and rare, but her treatment wrestled it into remission. Then it came back.

The disease had first struck five years ago, when Hansen was 40. Which was so uncommon — her type of ovarian cancer typically strikes women well after menopause — that her oncologist said she was only the second case of her kind in the medical record.  

Three years ago, the cancer returned. Hansen was terrified. But amidst the chemo and radiation and planning for surgery, a dear friend comforted her with a promise: She would ride her bike 50 miles and raise money for cancer research in Hansen’s name through Fred Hutch Obliteride, an annual event in Seattle that supports Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Hansen wept.

“I was so touched,” she said. “No one had ever done anything like that for me, and I felt so thankful.”

She still does. Which is why Hansen will join that friend, along with several other colleagues from Seattle’s Thornton Creek Elementary School, at the 2019 Obliteride on Aug. 10. The team has already raised more than $10,000 to support Fred Hutch research. They’ll join thousands of other participants who will ride, walk or run this year to add to the more than $15 million that Obliteriders have raised in the event’s seven-year history.

Hansen jokes that as a survivor, she’s “cheating” a bit when she asks people for money. Jokes come easily for her; Hansen has always tried to look on the bright side of life.

But some days, just hearing the word “cancer” hits her like a punch in the gut. She worries about the vicious disease that still might be lurking, waiting to return.

“Once you’ve had cancer, and know it could come back, it’s terrifying,” she said. “I am so thankful there are people out there who aren’t afraid of it, who pursue it. And even though cancer researchers are making all kinds of amazing leaps and bounds, it’s got to be insanely frustrating. I’m so grateful there are people who choose to keep at that research because if there weren’t, then a lot of us wouldn’t be here.”

Hansen knows firsthand the power of research. Between her two diagnoses, a gentler type of chemotherapy was approved for her cancer thanks to clinical trials. And she marvels whenever she reads about the latest advances in immunotherapy or gene editing. 

Ready, set, Obliteride: Ride, walk, or run this August — and help cure cancer faster!

She’s kept those strides in mind this year while training for Obliteride, pedaling away on the 20-year-old bike she got from her father-in-law. It had been at least a couple decades since Hansen had spent any serious time on a bike. So the initial sessions aboard “Kent” — named after the manufacturer — were brutal. 

“I’m 45, I’m a mother of three, and I teach for a living,” Hansen said. “I’m not a fitness girl.”

But she is motivated. Just last week another friend of hers was diagnosed with cancer. In response, Hansen decided to double the distance she had pledged to cycle at Obliteride. This “non-fitness girl” will now be gutting out 50 miles on Kent — for her friend, for herself, for her team, for everyone suffering from cancer.

“I’ve had a lot of people in my life — aunts and uncles and dear friends — who have lost their lives to cancer. So if I have to get on a bike to raise money for a cause like Fred Hutch, I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”

Interested in participating? Register now through August 7! Join Hansen, Team Thornton Creek, and the thousands of others who will be cycling 25, 50, or 100 miles; running or walking a 5K; or volunteering at the event to help cure cancer faster.

Jake Siegel is a former staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. Previously, he covered health topics at UW Medicine and technology at Microsoft. He has an M.A. from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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