Chris Kaighn: Riding — and Retailing — for Hope

Chris Kaighn

Having worked her way up from a retail sales position at The Limited as a young adult to senior vice president of stores and operations at Tween Brands, Chris Kaighn knows a thing or two about sales. She also knows more than she ever wanted to about cancer, having suffered from Hodgkin’s disease as a freshman in college and a more recent bout with breast cancer—attributable to the aggressive radiation treatments she received in college.

It is her passion for sales, disdain for cancer and love of cycling that has fueled her drive to raise funds for cancer research through Pelotonia, an annual grassroots bicycle tour that benefits the OSUCCC – James.

Kaighn began riding in Pelotonia several years ago as a part of L Brands’ peloton (riding group), but last year she decided Tween Brands should start its own team of riders. The small peloton Kaighn gathered raised a whopping $80,000 in its initial ride, a number she hopes to increase in 2015 through an expansion of the team to other members of the Ascena Retail Group to which Tween Brands belongs.

To augment the peloton’s impressive fundraising, Kaighn also spearheaded a cause-marketing effort last summer in the months leading up to Pelotonia, in which customers at Tween Brands’ Justice and Brothers stores in the central Ohio region were asked to donate to the OSUCCC – James at the register. The customers came through, donating thousands to support life-saving research. She hopes to expand the giving program this year to secure even more support for this important work.

Kaighn’s indefatigable efforts are spurred by her own life experience, which was immeasurably impacted by illness. “People tell me, ‘You look so normal, so healthy,’” she says, laughing. “If they only knew, I only get big things.”

In the decades after her successful treatment for Hodgkin’s disease, the lingering side effects of the aggressive radiation used to treat it began to surface, manifesting in chronic pneumonia, a virus that attacked her pericardium and nearly killed her, congestive heart failure, pre-cancerous nodules on her thyroid and breast cancer that required a double mastectomy.

She also had an aneurysm that caused a stroke and threatened permanent brain damage—episodes not directly attributable to the radiation but that count as “big things” nonetheless.

“A major health issue has happened to her every couple years,” says her husband Andy, “and yet she has continued to advance in her career. She has been through all of this and still has a smile on her face. She’s so fun and positive, and you’ll never not see her like that.”

In the meantime, Kaighn and her family are grateful that she has been healthy since 2010; she hasn’t even had a cold. Given her tendency to get only “big things,” she jokes, “It would be great some time to just get a fever.”