Personality: Kimberly M. Jennings
Spotlight on board president of the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation
10/20/2022, 6 p.m.
For the last five years, Kimberly M. Jennings has been a key part in providing life-saving resources and support for tens of thousands of Virginians who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
A native of Lynchburg, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in August of 2014, leading her to seek treatment and support. One of the groups that provided support and important resources during and after her journey to recovery was the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation.
Three years later, with her cancer in remission, she became a volunteer with VBCF’s advocacy and education unit.
“As a breast cancer survivor, I was looking for a way to give back to the breast cancer community,” she recalls. In addition to the resources VBCF provided her, Mrs. Jennings was impressed with the organization’s responsiveness and mission.
The feeling apparently was mutual because soon after becoming a volunteer, Mrs. Jennings was asked to serve on VBCF’s board.
Today, as VBCF’s board president, Mrs. Jennings is a leading advocate for the nonprofit organization that was established in 1991 by five women who were angered “by the lack of progress in breast cancer treatment and inspired by a growing network of grassroots advocates across the country.
“Our goals are to establish the end of breast cancer as a state and national priority, to advocate for the collective needs of people affected by breast cancer, and to educate all Virginians on the facts about breast cancer,” the organization states.
VBCF’s website cites these 2022 statistics for breast cancer:
• 276,480 women in the United States will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer;
• 42,170 U.S. women will die from breast cancer;
• 2,620 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer;
• 520 men will die from breast cancer;
• 7,410 women in Virginia will be diagnosed with breast cancer;
• 1,140 women will die from breast cancer.
Knowing the work necessary to combat such statistics and outcomes, Mrs. Jennings was eager to do her part.
“I was honored and humbled when asked to become board president,” she says. “I felt that my experience both as a cancer survivor and as a positive leader could have an impact on the work and direction of the organization.”
The effects of COVID-19 on health matters for many have been deeply felt, and breast cancer and VBCF are no exception. Like many organizations, VBCF switched from in-person efforts and events to virtual options at the start of the pandemic. Now, the organization plans to expand VBCF’s reach to underserved regions in the state. It also is developing a three- to five-year strategy to meet the future needs of breast health care.
VBCF’s continuing work to eradicate breast cancer includes advocating for improved public policies related to breast cancer and health care access. VBCF monitors and tracks legislation at the state and federal levels, and mobilizes and train volunteers throughout the state.
In addition, VBCF’s breast cancer advocacy days enable volunteers to meet with their legislators in the Virginia General Assembly and in the U.S. Congress to discuss how to improve policies related to breast cancer, according to VBCF’s website.
“I am excited about the current expansion of the organization’s reach across Virginia,” Ms. Jennings says. “My hope is that the board will develop a robust plan that will direct and focus VBCF’s efforts to have the most significant impact in underserved communities across the state.”
Meet a leader who is working to eradicate breast cancer in Virginia and this week’s Personality, Kimberly M. Jennings:
Volunteer position: VBCF board president.
Date and place of birth: July 17 in Lynchburg.
Where I live now: Maidens.
Occupation: Senior manager with the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired.
Education: Bachelor’s in sociology, University of Richmond; master’s in rehabilitation, Virginia Commonwealth University.
Family: Married with one adult son.
Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation (VBCF) is: A statewide, Richmond-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit committed to the eradication of breast cancer through education and advocacy.
When and why founded: VBCF was founded in 1991 by five women who met in an MCV support group. They were frustrated by the lack of progress in breast cancer treatment and inspired by a growing network of grassroots advocates across the country.
Founders: VBCF was founded by Phoebe Antrim, Judi Ellis, Patti Goodall, Mary Jo Kahn, and Sherry Kohlenberg (deceased).
Current goals: Our goals are to establish the end of breast cancer as a state and national priority, to advocate for the collective needs of people affected by breast cancer in Virginia, and to educate all Virginians on the facts about breast cancer. We are currently undergoing strategic planning to figure out the best way for us to “meet the moment” when it comes to breast health care in a post-pandemic world.
Why I accepted the position as the board president: I was honored and humbled when asked to become board president. This organization is important to me because of its statewide impact and the mission to eradicate breast cancer through advocacy and education. I felt that my experience as a cancer survivor and as a positive leader could have an impact on the work and direction of the organization.
Number one goal as board president: I am excited about the current expansion of the organization’s reach across Virginia. My hope is that the board will develop a robust plan that will direct and focus VBCF’s efforts to have the most significant impact in underserved communities across the state.
VBCF’s No. 1 challenge: Our number one challenge is prioritizing the needs of Virginia’s breast cancer community. Virginia is a large state with wealthy and poor, urban and rural, wide ethnic backgrounds, educated and not. There are many different pockets of need across the state at different stages of the breast cancer experience. We are trying to do as much as we can for as many people as we can while recognizing that we also have a small staff.
How we plan to meet it: Strategic planning. The pandemic left a lot of organizations reeling, and we think now is an excellent time to take stock of what our community looks like now and create a plan to address those needs.
Most important accomplishment since VBCF was founded: That’s so hard to pinpoint. We’ve had legislative successes, from requiring insurance to cover (breast) reconstruction to advocating for the “Let Doctors Decide” bill on medical marijuana, and we’ve helped thousands of people with our educational resources. But we can’t do any of that without the unwavering commitment of our supporters — our volunteers and staff who have made this work possible for more than 30 years.
How VBCF reaches Black and Brown communities: We do a lot of outreach and presentations in Black churches across the state (check out our Act Pink program), as well as connecting with sororities. We’ve also had multiple resources translated into Spanish. Behind the scenes, we work with other cancer organizations to keep health equity conversations and policies at the forefront.
Health disparities that affect Black people and breast cancer: Black women have about the same risk of developing breast cancer as white women, maybe a little less, but the mortality rate is 40 percent higher.
Black women are more likely to experience a delay between screening and diagnosis and also between diagnosis and beginning treatment. Black women also are more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age and with a more aggressive form of breast cancer that doesn’t have any targeted treatments: triple-negative breast cancer.
Men with breast cancer and VBCF: We don’t forget about men with breast cancer! Our FREE Breast Health Brochures have a whole section on breast cancer in men, and we talk about it in every presentation we do. We also would love to get more male breast cancer survivors involved with our organization, so please reach out!
How to deal with a breast cancer diagnosis: Dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis is different for everyone. For me, obtaining current and reliable information on the diagnosis and treatment options was key. Every breast cancer diagnosis is different. Do not be afraid to ask questions and get second opinions. In addition, talking with others who have had a similar experience helps you learn more about what you don’t know and what additional things to question. But most importantly, I found that I had to trust my medical team and trust the process.
Importance of family support: For me, family support made all the difference in my outlook and coping skills. I was very fortunate to have a supportive husband who was my anchor through the process, and also extended family and friends who walked the walk with me.
Importance of emotional wellness: The breast cancer experience is challenging on many levels for everyone. It is important to seek out support to cope with your feelings that may range from disbelief to anger to sadness and despair. There are many ways to find support through in-person support groups, on-line forums and groups, and one-to-one counseling. VBCF can help find the right type of support for an individual’s unique situation.
Major way of promoting wellness and healing by VBCF is: Encouraging people to trust their knowledge of their own bodies and advocate for themselves with their health care providers.
VBCF partners with: The VCU Massey Cancer Center, UVA Cancer Center, Cancer Action Coalition of Virginia, American Cancer Society, Women of Essence, Richmond Pride, Sister’s Network, and many others.
People can get involved with VBCF: Join our advocacy email list, become an education volunteer, sew “comfort pillows” for us to distribute to Virginians newly diagnosed with breast cancer, and many other ways. Contact us for more ways to help!
How I start the day: I like to start my day with a cup of peppermint tea and about 15 minutes of playing on my phone. Ideally, that is followed by 15 minutes of yoga during the week or a nice long outdoor walk on the weekends. All of these activities help to get me centered and focused for the day ahead.
A perfect day for me is: In the mountains or at the beach soaking up the sunshine and atmosphere around me. Any- time I am at either location is a perfect day, regardless of the weather!
Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: I love to hike and play pickleball! My hikes range from easy 3-mile urban hikes to 8 to 9-mile mountain hikes. I plan to participate in VBCF’s Pink 13.1 event and walk 13.1 miles on Oct. 22.
A quote that I am inspired by: Carpe Diem! (Seize the Day!)
My friends describe me as: Cheerful, positive and supportive.
At the top of my “to-do” list is: To travel more. I would like to go to Arizona, Washington state, and back to the Virgin Islands.
Best late-night snack: Mint chocolate chip ice cream!!
Best thing my parents taught me: Honor your commitments.
Person who influenced me the most: My mother and father who both are amazing individuals!
Book that influenced me the most: “The Silver Lining” by Hollye Jacobs and Elizabeth Messina.
What I’m reading now: “Mad Honey” by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan.
Next goal: Identify other ways that I can further contribute to my community and develop a road map of activities for my future retirement.