Runner, sister gives back to Dana-Farber through B.A.A. 5K

Jenny Thurber grew up with a dedication to giving back, and as she got older and more people in her life were diagnosed with cancer, her volunteering and philanthropy efforts focused more and more on cancer research and care. But it wasn’t until her sister, Jessie, was diagnosed with a rare cancer in 2017 that it really hit home for Jenny—and giving back to cancer research became a priority.

“I’ve always wanted to participate in a Dana-Farber event,” says Jenny. “And when my sister was diagnosed and it personally hit me, it became something I had to do, so I made sure to sign up and start my training.”

Jenny joined the Dana-Farber team in the 2021 B.A.A. 5K®, which took place virtually over Patriots’ Day weekend, April 16-18, 2021, to support Dana-Farber’s efforts to defy cancer. A lifelong runner, Jenny’s training had taken a backseat during her sister’s treatment for stage IV malignant neoplasm of the gallbladder, a very rare cancer that was diagnosed after a stroke and several heart attacks landed Jessie, a young mom of two, in the hospital. The family sought a second opinion at Dana-Farber, due to the rarity of the disease, and found solace in Dr. Thomas Abrams, Jessie’s oncologist.

“Dr. Abrams treated us like one of his own family members or a friend, not just as a patient or a number,” Jenny recalls. “I’ll always remember that, and I’ll always be grateful.”

Due to complications from her disease, and its severity, Jessie had limited treatment options and ultimately died from her illness in October 2018, but the impact she left on Jenny, her best friend as well as her sister, will never be forgotten. Nor will the kindness Jenny says she felt from everyone at Dana-Farber.

After her sister passed, Jenny rededicated herself to training and fundraising in Jessie’s honor, so all patients, no matter their diagnosis, have a chance at a cancer-free future. Normally a very private person, Jenny shared her efforts on social media and found support from her community—and quickly became one of Dana-Farber’s top fundraisers for the 2021 B.A.A. 5K. 

“This race was different for me,” Jenny says. “Not only was I thinking about my sister, but I was also thinking of other patients and their families, and representing all of us facing cancer.”

On race day, Jenny laced up and headed to her starting line along the Charles River, not sure how emotional she would get during the meaningful run, but she knew no matter what, she was going to finish, even if she had to walk every step.

“Once I got past two miles, I started to struggle a little and decided to walk a bit to give my mind and my body a break,” she recalls. “Then in the distance I saw my boyfriend and our new puppy and they, and my sister, motivated me. My sister was such a fighter with what she went through, and I knew I could finish it. I ended the race in the arms of my boyfriend and my puppy and all I can remember is how happy I was.”

With her first Dana-Farber race complete, Jenny is eager to keep racing and raising funds. Since her sister’s treatment, she even started working at Dana-Farber, supporting the Institute’s Chief Scientific Officer and seeing firsthand how important research is in changing the way the world treats cancer.

“It’s an amazing feeling to reach a goal and to support Dana-Farber,” Jenny says. “We have to continue educating each other and, most importantly, supporting one another.”

Join Jenny and Run for Dana-Farber in the 2022 B.A.A. 5K on April 16, 2022. Your fundraising efforts will support The Dana-Farber Campaign, our ambitious, multi-year fundraising effort to prevent, treat, and defy cancer. The Dana-Farber Campaign will accelerate the Institute’s strategic priorities by supporting revolutionary science, extraordinary care, and exceptional expertise. As a community, we have the power to create a more hopeful, cancer-free future—in Boston and around the world. Together, we can defy cancer at every turn. Learn more about The Dana-Farber Campaign and how you can get involved at