Women of Achievement
for a woman whose heroic spirit was tested and
shown as a model to all in Shelby County and beyond:
In 1990, Molly Meisenheimer was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 35, too young at the time for a routine mammogram. With the support of her husband and two sons, she underwent a mastectomy, extensive chemotherapy, and reconstructive surgery. Faith in her family and church helped her survive the experience. “It’s not a death sentence,” Molly insists. “I’m here, I have hair on my head and a smile on my face.”
But Molly realized that women she knew didn’t talk about breast cancer, and she was desperate to find a way to reach out to other women and share her feelings. She came across an article on the Dallas-based Susan G. Komen Foundation, which raises money to fund treatment for breast-cancer patients. The group began the Race for the Cure 5K walk or run with women participants only, followed by a one-mile family fun run. Molly decided to help bring this fundraiser to Memphis, thus assisting women who didn’t have access to doctors and hospitals. In 1993, the event took place in 18 cities, including Memphis, with 1,753 participating, and net profits of $35,000. In 1999, in Memphis, 12,640 participated and $462,900 was raised.
The race is now held in more than 100 cities. Seventy-five percent of the funds raised locally stay in Memphis to pay for diagnostic screening, surgery, wigs and prostheses, videos, books, and support groups. The Race for the Cure office, run by volunteers and one paid staff member, has a sign prominently displayed reading, “Leave your ego at home.”
“I wish I hadn’t had breast cancer, but I really like the person I’ve become,” says Molly. Along with organizing the annual Race for the Cure, Molly addresses women in factories and jails, urging them to do regular self-examinations and to get mammograms.
“We are all women, we all have breasts, and cancer has no barriers.”
This May will mark the fifth year of a Memphis pro/amateur golf event that men can enter. Donations to the race and to the Komen Foundation come in throughout the year. A luncheon held locally once a year to honor all breast-cancer survivors will have 500-600 attendees. They come by word of mouth and are recognized by the number of years they have survived the cancer.
Molly has become a heroine to her family, to the Memphis community, and to breast-cancer patients and survivors everywhere for turning her personal tragedy into hope for hundreds of other women.
Molly Meisenheimer won the Memphis Chapter of the Public Relations Society of Americas (PRSA) Communicator of the Year award. She has relocated to Oxford, Mississippi.