WAILUKU - It's hard not to be amazed by Jennifer Varner's story of survival.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 while three months pregnant with her fourth child. That year also marked 10 years since her husband, Jeff, had been declared cancer-free after battling colon cancer.
Varner chose to fight the cancer and underwent chemotherapy and multiple surgeries while pregnant. She gave birth to a healthy boy, Kilian, and underwent more chemotherapy treatments.
Jennifer Varner was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 while three months pregnant with her fourth child. She underwent treatment and surgeries while pregnant with son Kilian.
Jennifer and Jeff Varner are pictured with their children. After moving to Maui this year, Jennifer Varner, a breast cancer survivor, is auctioning off a “business in a box” online retail site to benefit The Pacific Cancer Foundation of Maui. She is founder and CEO of pure-ecommerce.com, a company that specializes in creating and selling turnkey online stores.
Today, Varner, 39, is cancer-free and has moved with her family to Maui to continue to heal both emotionally and physically.
"I just needed to get away from everything. I wanted a change, and Maui is just such a healthy, spiritual healing place that I was so attracted here," Varner said.
"I am cancer-free, (and), most importantly, my baby Kilian is perfect. He is a survivor, too; he took that long, hard journey with me," she said. "Through these events, I have gained so much wisdom and strength - more than I ever had, and more than I knew I could gain in a lifetime."
Wanting to give back to the Maui community that she considers her extended ohana, Varner, a successful e-commerce businesswoman, is hosting a special fundraiser this month to benefit The Pacific Cancer Foundation of Maui.
Varner is founder and chief operating officer of pure-ecommerce.com, which specializes in creating and selling turnkey, ready-to-go online retail businesses selling everything from gift items and children's clothing to pet products and home decor. The company travels to trade shows to help select product lines and establish vendor relationships.
To coincide with October being breast cancer awareness month, Varner is auctioning off one of the "business in a box" sites, with all proceeds going to The Pacific Cancer Foundation.
The site up for auction is puresportsgifts.com, which Varner said would normally sell for $6,900. The auction is running all month and ends midnight Oct. 31 at pure-ecommerce.com.
The winning bidder will own the domain name and the designed site with all products preloaded and "drop-shipped," meaning the client will hold no inventory because items will be shipped directly from a vendor to the customer.
Varner said the overhead costs for running the turnkey business would be about $50 a month.
"Anyone in the U.S. or Canada can bid, and you don't have to have any previous e-commerce experience," she said. "We consult with all of our clients in a step-by-step process on how to run an online business. We're notifying bidders every Friday of who the highest bidder is, so you'll have a chance to change your bid if you'd like."
She said that the auction had gotten "quite a few bids" as of late last week.
Varner said that she learned about The Pacific Cancer Foundation after moving to Maui and was impressed with its free-of-charge "patient navigation" program for patients in Maui County.
Proceeds from the auction will benefit the foundation's Fourth Annual Paddle for Life Maui canoe voyage to Lanai and back, which will happen Saturday and Sunday. The event is one of the foundation's main fundraising events and, in turn, supports the patient navigation program.
"This is a unique program," said Jeff Scharnhorst, executive director of the foundation. "Our full-time patient navigator is based at the oncology unit at Maui Memorial Medical Center and meets individually with patients to navigate through patient care on Maui - what do you do, where do you go, who do you talk to, where do you find resources for help. It's free of charge. We don't charge for anything that we do."
Since the program launched in fall 2010, Scharnhorst said it has reached about 500 cancer patients across Maui County.
Varner credited a similar navigation program for helping her.
"When I moved here, I knew that obviously as a survivor there may come a time I may need a doctor or treatment, which is how I learned about the foundation and about their patient navigation program," she said. "For me, when I was diagnosed, I had something similar, and I feel like she really saved my life. If I can support a program like that - that just fulfills me in every way."
Scharnhorst said he was thrilled when approached about the auction donation.
"Talk about inspiring," he said of Varner. "To not only be fearful for your husband's life, but then to be pregnant and be told that you have breast cancer and to have to make that decision and go through chemotherapy treatments and surgery and deliver a healthy baby is nothing short of a miracle.
"And for her to then be so generous to give back," he added. "Here on Maui, she wants to help her local ohana and give back. That's the aloha spirit."
Varner said she's been in the e-commerce industry for 12 years.
She launched an online retail maternity store, bellablumaternity.com, from her home and built it into a multimillion-dollar business within two years.
"When my husband was diagnosed with cancer, we were told we'd never have children. They were wrong. I loved pregnancy, I fell in love with everything maternity-related and wanted to turn that into a business. I felt like going online wouldn't come with the overhead of a brick-and-mortar store and I could stay home with my child and husband. That business just blew up and did amazing."
She later sold the business and became a consultant, launching pure-ecommerce.com five years ago.
Apart from the auction, Varner is also giving away a turnkey business - stylishteeshirts.com - to a breast cancer survivor this month. To enter to win the Survive & Thrive Business Giveaway, visit pure-ecommerce.com.
"I want to give someone the opportunity to look forward to something new and exciting in their life after cancer," she said.
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.