Jane Stroupe has had the kind of career that hardly seems possible anymore: Rising from a part-time clerk job at Piedmont Natural Gas with almost no knowledge of propane, almost 40 years later she now is an area director for the country’s largest propane company.
Three things about that career path are particularly extraordinary: First, thanks to a payroll error, she was promoted from part-time clerk to full time two weeks into the job; second, in 1997 she made history as the first woman president of her company; and third, she has never left that company in four decades, although its ownership and name have changed over the years through a series of acquisitions.
Today, Stroupe, 60, serves as area director for AmeriGas district offices in parts of South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia. That leadership experience proved valuable last year when she helped organize a support group for women who, like her, are coping with a cancer diagnosis. The group helps women who are struggling to make sense of their new reality.
“Someone is always there that has just been diagnosed, and they are scared to death,” Stroupe says. “We help them cope by answering their questions and listening to their concerns. They are encouraged they will be healthy, ‘fairly normal’ women like we are very soon. It is a great feeling to provide support to each other and give a new friend a hug to let them know they can make it through the process.”
Stroupe, an only child, was grieving the sudden death of her mother in March 2013 when a routine annual mammogram that June showed an abnormality.
She distinctly recalls the feeling of fear that swept through her when she and her husband, Mark, heard she “definitely” had breast cancer.
“It was as if our world stood still,” she says. “All the information we were being given was overwhelming, and we learned medical terminology we never wanted to hear.”
She underwent a bilateral mastectomy in mid-July, and the aggravations that accompany serious health concerns began: She started chemotherapy on her ninth wedding anniversary. A port-a-catheter inserted the previous day apparently punctured a lung, causing it to collapse and sending her back to the hospital for four days. Her hair fell out 16 days after her first treatment, triggering denial and eventually acceptance to the point that she embraced the variety of wigs and hats available.