Jennifer Wigman Feinberg wanted to give purpose to her metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. She ended up raising $250,000 for research.

After experiencing a persistent cough she’d chalked up to allergies, acid reflux, and COVID-19 at one point, Jen Feinberg was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer two months before her 44th birthday. To say the diagnosis was shocking doesn’t begin to describe it.

Two years prior, Jen learned she had ductal carcinoma in situ (also known as stage 0 breast cancer) after her second-ever mammogram. After getting three opinions, Jen elected to have a double mastectomy.

“I considered myself lucky,” the wife and mom of two children said. “At the time, my father-in-law was suffering from a very aggressive head and neck cancer. I was relieved to learn that the only treatment I needed was surgery. Compared to my father-in-law, I did not see myself as a cancer patient.”

After surgery, Jen started seeing an oncologist to begin hormone therapy. While Jen was standing on the stairs of her kids’ school during pickup, her oncologist called to tell her she had a one-millimeter micro-metastasis in her breast that was HER2-positive and hormone receptor (HR)–negative (unlike her primary DCIS that had been HR-positive).

“My oncologist explained that HER2 is a more aggressive form of cancer, but by having a mastectomy, I had pursued the most aggressive treatment option available to me,” she said. “I lived for two years thinking the cancer was gone, not realizing that it only takes one rogue cell to propel you from stage 0 to stage 4.”

So, when Jen developed a cough early last year, breast cancer was the furthest thing from her mind. After testing negative for COVID-19, Jen got a chest X-ray. The image, she remembered, “was lit up and looked like popcorn.” She was given a note that said her X-ray was “concerning for metastatic disease.”

A barrage of tests later, her metastatic diagnosis was confirmed. At that point, Jen could barely walk up a set of stairs, so she started treatment immediately. Six rounds of chemo alleviated most of her symptoms, and thanks to a cold cap, she retained most of her hair.

Today, Jen is receiving two HER2-targeted therapies: Herceptin® and Perjeta®. She’ll remain on them so long as they continue working.

“While I’m on my first-line treatment, I’m researching options for my second-line treatment and looking for clinical trials I might qualify for,” she said.

Wanting to “give purpose” to her diagnosis, Jen started a fundraiser for BCRF last year that to date has raised more than $250,000—making her one of BCRF's first independent fundraisers to fund an entire annual research grant. Her fundraiser was an inspiring community and family effort, with her daughter, Maya, raising $9,000 for BCRF for her bat mitzvah service project.

“Our parents shared it with their friends. Our friends shared it with their friends. It was so exciting and humbling to hear from so many people,” Jen said. “It’s just been overwhelming.”

Metastatic breast cancer has no cure, but Jen finds hope in research and the fact that it’s accelerating for stage IV disease.

“Advances in science are what made my treatments possible today—that’s very inspiring,” she said. “I’m comforted by the fact that additional therapies have been approved in just the past year. Research is what will keep me alive.”

Read more stories from BCRF's Research Is the Reason storytelling initiative here.

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