Dr. Jennifer Tittensor works every day to help people with cancer. Then she runs for them, too.
Dr. Jennifer Tittensor is one of those people you don’t really want to ever meet — not in her work capacity, at least. She’s also one of those people who, once you get to know her, you’re incredibly glad you’ve met.
A general surgeon by training, Dr. Tittensor’s practice in the American Fork hospital has evolved to the point that she now takes care of people who need breast surgery, with her main focus being on breast cancer.
She’s also one of the amazing people you’ll see at the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer, as she takes in the beauty of the canyon and appreciates the toughness of the people she’s helped overcome cancer.
Listen to our conversation with Dr. Tittensor on Apple Podcasts or Google Play, or listen to it right here:
Exhausting and Rewarding
Dr. Tittensor is acutely aware of how frightening the prospect of having surgery for breast cancer can be for a patient, and even experiences that emotional load herself. Even so, she emphasizes the positive. “There are days when it is emotionally exhausting,” she says, “but the vast majority of the time it is very rewarding.”
Her patients no doubt notice that Dr. Tittensor joins them on the journey they’re taking. “At the beginning, it's hard,” Dr. Tittensor says. “Patients are scared. They don't know what's coming. Sometimes I have to tell them that are going to do very difficult treatments or they need surgeries that are major adjustments in their life.”
“But at the end of it all,” says Dr. Tittensor, “most of the time patients are cured. You see that process of struggle and endurance and then being better at the end and it's wonderful to see people come back, feeling good, and they've moved on with their life.”
Summing up the experience, Dr. Tittensor says, “It’s an amazing job.”
Running the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer
Dr. Tittensor got started with running for a reason that will feel familiar to many runners: she had gained some weight, didn’t feel good, and wanted to get back on track.
“I used to be very active in aerobics and weightlifting and training…and over the years I had just fallen out of that,” she says. “I kind of found myself in a bit of a rut.”
So she tried something new. “I started running and found that to be enjoyable,” Dr. Tittensor says. “So I set a goal: I wanted to do [The AF Canyon Run Against Cancer].”
And of course, like most people, she was nervous at the starting line — both because of the race itself, and…for another reason. “I was asked to speak at the beginning, which made it a lot more nerve-wracking,” Dr. Tittensor says. “But I was able to talk about how I felt about cancer and what it meant to me.”
And then it was time for the run, where Dr. Tittensor had a surprising form of support along the way. “My husband was so excited that I was doing this run. He rode his bike to the top in the dark, then he rode down, took pictures of me along the way, and then ride a little further and take more pictures.”
“I have very good memories of that first time,” Dr. Tittensor says. “And the feeling of crossing that finish line and accomplishing that goal was huge for me.”
Her Reason for Running
While Dr. Tittensor’s running and racing experience will sound very familiar to a lot of runners, there is one component of her AF Canyon Run Against Cancer experience that is very uncommon — and very special.
“This is for my patients,” she says of her reason for running the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer. “My patients do a lot of hard things. I can do something that hurts a little bit for them too.”
Dr. Tittensor is inspired by her patients. She says, “When I'm feeling really tired, I will sometimes reach back in my memory and think of somebody who was particularly hard for me to take care of or it was emotional for me. It helps you to keep going.”
There have even times when Dr. Tittensor has come across patients of hers who are actually doing the race. “I remember Amy Searcy has run it at least twice, she’s doing great; she’s an amazing woman,” Dr. Tittensor says. “I’ve also seen Denise Neish, who was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2011. She’s continued to stay healthy and fight hard all this time, and I hope to see her again at the race this year.”
While Dr. Tittensor is definitely inspired by her patients, sometimes the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer can be even more personal. “Back in 2015, one of my very good friends — a trauma surgeon in San Diego — was diagnosed with breast cancer,” says Dr. Tittensor. “We trained together. She has two kids. She's almost the same age as I am. It definitely hits home, and that year she was really on my mind a lot.”
The great news is, this story has a happy ending. “The next year after she'd done all of her treatments,” Dr. Tittensor says, “she and her family came out and ran the race with me.”
She sums up the experience of running the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer well: “It's very emotional,” she says. “If you think about it too much, you can find yourself crying down the canyon. I feel a lot of appreciation that I am in good health and that I'm able to enjoy that beautiful canyon and participate in something that helps people with cancer.”