The Meaning of BRAIV
CURRENTLY IN REMISSION, JENNIFER SWENSON LEANS INTO HER CANCER EXPERIENCE AND JOINS FORCES WITH OTHER SURVIVORS TO LAUNCH THE BRAIV FOUNDATION.
On October 10, 2020, Jet Linx Minneapolis hosted a kickoff event for a new local charity, the BRAIV Foundation. The BRAIV Foundation’s mission consists of “people helping people,” focusing on brain cancer research, family support, and providing support to veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries.
“Brain cancer remains a tricky disease, as it’s under-funded, under-insured, and there’s not a lot of research around it. Also, when cases are identified, they can be terminal in nature,” shared Lee McGillivray, Jet Linx Minneapolis Base President. “Our mission is to raise awareness and hopefully fund research that develops better treatments.”
McGillivray became involved with the BRAIV Foundation when employees from Premier Jet Center (PJC), a nearby company at Flying Cloud Airport, approached him for leadership support. McGillivray, who has a close friend impacted by brain cancer, promised to assist. McGillivray then helped to form the foundation and hire a CFO and a marketing director, and plans to continue offering leadership and direction to maintain the health of the nonprofit.
Jennifer Swenson – a former airline pilot – currently leads the customer service team at PJC, managing daily operations including hiring, training and team development. Swenson has battled brain cancer two separate times, undergoing multiple surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy treatments to fight the disease. Together wtih Brian Bourbeau, a fellow PJC team member, she helped co-found the BRAIV Foundation, assuming a board seat and running a marathon for the organization’s inaugural event.
“The problem with brain cancer is that it’s not understood well. I went to various doctors, and the treatment plans were all different. As a patient, that’s unsettling to have to pick and choose a health plan,” Swenson explained. “That’s why I want to raise awareness and funds for research to beat brain cancer. I want other people in my position to have a better chance at recovery. The BRAIV Foundation is the beginning of that goal.”
Swenson’s career as a pilot for a major airline hit some turbulence eight years ago. After what she believed to be a bout with food poisoning, Swenson visited the hospital where she was shocked to learn that she had a brain tumor. As a result of her diagnosis, she could no longer maintain her medicals. At the time, Swenson was only 27 and a married mom of one.
Swenson was fortunate to be young and in good health, and the tumor was surgically removed. She eventually went back to work and had another child. However, five years after the first one, another brain tumor was detected, and again, surgery was required to remove it.
“After the surgical removal of the second tumor, I opted to undergo 32 treatments of radiation and six months of chemo,” Swenson said. “This post-operative care plan was meant to lower the likelihood of any tumors appearing in the future. Unfortunately, this also ended my career as a pilot. I stepped away from the cockpit voluntarily and began working at PJC.”
It was after the second battle with brain cancer that Swenson ran a half marathon with a friend. “As a pilot, you can understand the desire to be in control. Those years of my life were out of my control but running a half marathon gave me back that control. That’s what inspired my attempt to run the Chicago Marathon in support of the American Brain Tumor Association,” Swenson revealed.
After the Chicago Marathon was canceled due to COVID-19, Swenson wanted to apply the training she had already put in. She had trained to the point where she was ready to complete the full marathon, but now there was nowhere to run and no way to raise funds for the American Brain Tumor Association.
“I was talking to Brian (Bourbeau) about the missed opportunity. He half-joked that he would host a marathon for me to run. That ‘joke’ inspired me to act, and what resulted was the initial idea for the kickoff event of the BRAIV Foundation,” Swenson explained. “Brian and I both have a passion for raising awareness about brain disease, so we decided to move forward together.”
Bourbeau, current Line Manager at PJC, stands as President of the BRAIV Foundation. A veteran, he previously served overseas and knows the struggles that service members must overcome after sustaining traumatic brain injuries. Bourbeau and Swenson joined forces to start the foundation – each focusing on a particular aspect of brain health.
“Brain injury is the other important focus of the foundation – particularly injuries sustained by veterans,” McGillivray explained. “We see too many service men and women return home with difficulties stemming from brain injuries, and we don’t do enough to raise awareness and help them. That’s why the other side of the BRAIV Foundation, led by Brian, focuses on that aspect.”
Bourbeau and Swenson approached McGillivray about helping their cause in the fall of 2020, and McGillivray offered the new private terminal as a place to host a kickoff event that became Swenson’s alternative to the canceled Chicago Marathon. Because PJC operates so closely with Jet Linx Minneapolis, the partnership formed naturally, and McGillivray was eager to lend support to the local community.
The BRAIV Foundation kickoff event featured brunch, refreshments and live music, wine samplings, as well as a Ferrari High-Speed Experience test drive of the new F8 Tributo, presented by Continental AutoSports. A wine presentation by Danica Rosé and Fresh Vine Wines offered free samples and insightful tips on the best food pairings to fully enjoy their wines. However, the biggest draw to the kickoff event was Swenson’s big run, benefiting the BRAIV Foundation.
“I’m amazed at how quickly everyone worked to put this together,” McGillivray noted. “It just goes to show, when you’re passionate about a cause, you can truly make a difference. Jenn showed that when she crossed the finish line. Just a few weeks ago, the BRAIV Foundation didn’t exist, and look at it now!”
When Swenson crossed the finish line at Jet Linx Minneapolis on October 10, 2020, she was received by nearly 100 supporters, friends and family.
“This was a deliberate goal I set for myself, and it’s empowering to cross it off my bucket list. After losing so much control in the past, I feel as if I’m regaining it,” Swenson said. “I’m amazed at how many people were willing to come support the organization and humbled that so many people care. I owe a big thank you to Jet Linx for lending their space, and to Lee for lending his time and expertise.”