When Cathy Jolly was only 35 years old, a breast cancer diagnosis threatened to turn her life upside down. After surviving her battle and empathizing with other women with stories just like hers, she set out to raise as much money as possible for research toward better treatments and cures for other patients.
Over the past seven years, Jolly, a native of Kansas City, Missouri, has successfully raised more than $335,000 for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation — more money than any other individual has ever raised for the group. She was able to set this record thanks to the overwhelming support of her community. Utilizing her previous position as a city councilwoman in Kansas City, and her current role as a senior adviser for Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, Jolly was able not only to harness the power of her connections, but to give the people of Kansas City a philanthropic cause to which they could personally relate.
Many of the people who support Jolly’s fundraising efforts have been by her side since she was 27, when she successfully ran for Missouri state representative. She served for six years, married her husband, Scott Taylor, and gave birth to their son, Drake. When a seat on the Kansas City Council opened up in 2007, Jolly ran for it and won, excited to be working closer to home and for a community she loves. But her triumph in being elected councilwoman was thwarted by her breast cancer diagnosis, which occurred immediately after she took her seat.
“It was completely devastating and shocking because I was so young,” Jolly told The Huffington Post. “And it was interesting being an elected person during that time. I led our local nightly news with ‘Councilwoman Cathy Jolly Has Breast Cancer.’ I took a leave of absence for a few months, and just really focused on treatment and getting better.”
As she underwent chemotherapy, her parents and mother-in-law helped her and her husband care for Drake, who was 3 years old at the time.
“There were weak times where I thought, ‘I can’t do this,’ and my husband would say, ‘You don’t have a choice. This is the treatment that they have, and it’s not going to be fun,'” said Jolly. “You don’t know how tough you are and what you’re made of, really, until you have to go through something like that. I always say women who get through breast cancer are warriors, because that’s really how I felt, and that was the mindset I was in.”
During her battle with breast cancer, Jolly’s love for helping others as a public servant transformed into a need specifically to help women coping with a similar struggle. She made it her new mission to fundraise as much as possible for the science that could lend itself to new treatments and cures.
“I really, really strongly committed myself to raising money for research,” she said. “I know other women, young moms going through it, and I just got to the point where I thought: ‘It’s 2014. We’ve landed a man on the moon — everybody was committed to that in 1968 and 1969. Today you can talk to people all around the world about advances in technology with the Internet. We’ve got cars that you can plug into your garage at night and hop in them the next morning and go to work because they’ve been charged electrically. So why can’t we have that kind of thrust to have funding and better research for treatment and cures?’ I was fed up.”
After some online research, Jolly decided to channel her efforts into fundraising for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, a nonprofit based in New York City. She admired the group’s support for a variety of doctors and promising research projects, and the way it responded with enthusiasm to her desire to help.
Jolly returned to the Kansas City Council after a leave of absence that lasted several months. Her treatment worked, placing her in remission and giving her an incredible sense of gratitude for the people who supported her along the way. When her fellow council members mentioned celebrating her return with a party, Jolly suggested an alternative.
In October 2007, together with then-Mayor Mark Funkhouser and the rest of the Kansas City Council, Jolly hosted her first gala to raise money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. More than 200 people attended the event, which included dinner, drinks and remarks from Funkhouser, the city council and Jolly herself. The ball was such a success that Jolly has gone on to host one every October, reflecting on her journey and offering support to anyone who has or who will experience a similar struggle.
“You know, it was difficult that my cancer was so public, but at the same time, we have a great community here and the support I received then and for these events is tremendous,” she said. “It really is touching what a close community we are. Kansas City has about half a million people, so it was overwhelming.”
The annual gala has approximately 36 sponsors, including but not limited to law firms, civic leaders, local businesses, labor unions and the Kansas City fire department. Each year, the gala raises $30,000 from these sponsorships alone, and takes in about another $18,000 from the $100 event ticket and various fundraising projects.
Gala organizers invite 300 guests every year, using beautiful five-piece invitations donated by the local printers who once helped Jolly with her political campaign materials. The fire department custom-designs a new T-shirt each year, while local taxi mogul Bill George paints several of his cabs pink with the BCRF logo for the month of October. Others throughout the community lend Jolly a hand in her overall fundraising mission.
“These are people who were with me when I was 27 years old running for state representative, and have just stayed with me through every endeavor,” said Jolly. “I’m humbled and fortunate that I have great friends.”
She’s looking forward to hosting the eighth annual gala on Oct. 28, and seeing all the people who have made a contribution thus far.
“My favorite part is when I get to thank everyone at the event,” she said. “I know it sounds silly, but when I’m standing in the front and I’ve got a microphone in my hand and I’m looking out, I get emotional about it. There are so many people there, and breast cancer touches everyone. You can’t find anyone who isn’t affected by it.”
* This article was originally published on Huffington Post, October 21, 2014.
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