It was 2007 when Jen Pagani, an endurance trainer who completed two Ironman triathlon competitions, discovered a lump in her breast while breastfeeding her youngest son. While undergoing treatment, the SouthPark mom and her husband, Joe, were overwhelmed by all of the emotional and financial support they received. That inspired them to start the GoJenGo Foundation (gojengo.org), a nonprofit that raises money to help families of women with breast cancer handle their financial burdens.
Though Jen died in 2014 at age 44, her legacy lives on. GoJenGo hosted the fifth-annual RunJenRun 5K and festival in March, and is hosting a “Cheers Jen Cheers” football watch-party fundraiser Oct. 29 at Triple C Brewing Co., during breast-cancer awareness month.
Joe Pagani talked to SouthPark Magazine about the joy—and the pain—of carrying on his wife’s memory.
How did GoJenGo get started?
When Jen got sick, we had friends delivering meals to our house for a year and so many gift cards. Our cup runneth over, so Jen would take those gift cards into chemo and give them to people who were struggling financially. So many women—even with jobs and insurance—get into financial trouble with a cancer diagnosis. That was a lightbulb for us: There was this huge community of people who needed help and people who wanted to help; we could put those groups together.
Where did the GoJenGo name come from?
When Jen did her first Ironman, so many of our neighbors came out to cheer her on when she was leaving. One of them had a banner that said “GoJenGo.”
You’ve raised more than $500,000 and helped hundreds of people. What’s that like?
I think about Jen every time. She was an amazing, giving person and she used to say something would “make her heart sing.” I know doing this would make her heart sing.
Is there a recipient who really stands out to you?
One we supported this year had a recurrence of breast cancer. She was facing eviction, but her need for surgery was urgent and all she could focus on. The landlord took her to court the week of her surgery. Her surgery was on a Friday, she would have to be in the hospital for days, and then she was being evicted that Monday. I called the landlord and sent a check for her past-due amount and an additional month to get her through recovery. The landlord worked with us and forgave a small amount of the balance.
Your sons, Luca and Rocco, are now 10 and 12. How are you guys doing?
The boys are doing fantastic—it’s such a blessing. They’re happy; they can talk about Jen. They miss her but they’re good. They’re both straight-A students. It’s tougher for me.
You had more than 1,000 people run the 5K this past spring. How does it feel to see so many people come out?
It’s a double-edged sword—it’s amazing to see her legacy come to life and see the passion she inspired in people. She touched a lot of lives, and I get to meet a lot of those people at the 5K. It’s inspiring and wonderful. But it’s tough at the same time. Jen would really have loved it.
Want to go?
Watch the Carolina Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the Cheers Jen Cheers event from noon to 5 p.m. Oct. 29 at Triple C Brewing Co.’s Barrel Room, 2832 Griffith St. Cost is $45 for adults and $20 for children ages 6 to 12. Free for children ages 5 and under. Details: gojengo.org/cheersjencheers
Photos courtesy of Joe Pagani