A Full Plate
Jennings is a nurturer by nature. She’s always there for her friends and family and also finds community in helping strangers cope with the same challenges she has faced. She founded an infertility support group, “Women of Hope,” and an adoption support group, “Amazing Families,” many years ago. And, most recently she’s used her personal Facebook page for ovarian cancer education and advocacy.
Jennings lives just 10 minutes down the road from Duke Cancer Center with her husband Spencer, a civil engineer with the N.C. Department of Transportation; their daughter Kaitlin, 22, a Catawba College senior pursuing a double music major in Worship Arts and Vocal Pedagogy; and their son Roman, a 20- year-old story consultant and videographer helping to develop local non-profits and businesses. Jennings’ mother Muriel Coffey, an active and healthy 97-year-old, also lives with them.
A stay-at-home mom, Jennings has her hands full managing a multi-generational household.
Cooking nearly every day from scratch for her family — from a pot of chili to shrimp coconut curry — is one of her favorite ways of expressing love, of assuring her family she’s there for them. She always makes enough for leftovers or to feed last-minute guests.
When Jennings was suddenly faced with stage 4 epithelial ovarian cancer in June 2017, the family’s caregiver-in-chief was bereft.
Jennings’ ovarian cancer had gone undetected for at least six months before diagnosis. In January 2017, she saw her primary care doctor for mild lower abdominal pain and constipation. A UTI was ruled out as the source. Over the next several weeks, she would see two different doctors and undergo a series of tests, including two physical exams, four ultrasounds and an MRI. Nothing alarming was found. One of the scans was incorrectly read. It wasn’t until she was four months into pelvic physical therapy and had started colonic massage that she discovered, on her own, “a definite lump” to the left of her uterus. A follow-up ultrasound (her fifth) by her doctors plus a CT scan at Duke of her abdomen showed cancer everywhere.
“I was in the best shape ever compared to my teens and twenties. It was a complete shock,” said Jennings, who had a side gig as a Beachbody fitness coach and was eating healthy and working out at the time. “What’s amazing is that when the cancer was discovered, I was already at stage 4.”
Per the American Cancer Society, up to 25% of ovarian cancer diagnoses are due to the patient having a family cancer syndrome, which means they’ve inherited particular mutations in particular genes that drive not only the development of ovarian cancer, but also breast and colorectal cancers. Jennings had no family history of ovarian cancer.