Running for Holly: Cancer patie runs 5Ks to raise funds, awareness

Sunday, August 22, 2010
Holly Team members, from left, Crystal Ritter, Teresa Lambert, Juli Cook and Carolyn Essner lead some lunchtime walkers outside MedAssets as they prepare for the 5K Relay for Life Running for the Girls event to be held Saturday. (Fred Lynch)

Holly Zoellner ran in her first 5K race in June. She has run one other since and has her third planned for Saturday, unless her breast cancer surgery prevents it.

Zoellner, 32, has an HER2-positive lump in her breast, an aggressive type of cancerous tumor less responsive to hormone treatments. She was diagnosed in July after her doctor found a lump in her breast during a routine exam. Two days after that, Zoellner had a mammogram and biopsy. A positive test result came three days later.

Her treatment plan includes a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. Since her diagnosis, many people already in her life and others who have heard her story have come together to support her. They formed a "Holly Team" for the first Relay for Life "Running for the Girls" 5K event in Cape Girardeau hosted by MedAssets. The team includes Zoellner's younger sister Ashly Richardet, a MedAssets employee, and other friends and family.

MedAssets employees are not strangers to Relay for Life events. Since 2003, a team of employees has participated in the annual overnight Relay for Life event in Cape Girardeau.

One team member, Priscilla Mabuce, recently beat breast cancer and said she identifies closely with Zoellner's situation. In March 2009, Mabuce was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. After a series of other treatments, she is cancer-free.

"Holly and I are getting acquainted now," she said.

Zoellner's older sister, Julie Kirkpatrick, said Zoellner has taken the news of her cancer well. Kirkpatrick said Zoellner has had small meltdowns but mostly has taken the information from the doctors and resolved to do what she can to fight.

Zoellner was scheduled for surgery Thursday and could not be reached for comment. Kirkpatrick said if her sister didn't recover enough to run in the race, Zoellner would still walk in it.

Kirkpatrick said Zoellner's diagnosis shocked everyone in the family, because she is so young.

"Everybody has tried to pull together and do what they can for her," she said.

Kirkpatrick said Zoellner has been really brave.

"She has amazed me," she said. "She's my little sister, and you don't expect a little sister to show such courage and grace."

Zoellner's sense of humor has stayed with her so far, Kirkpatrick said, and is evident through the e-mails and Facebook messages Zoellner has sent to family updating them on the information she receives from doctors.

One from Zoellner, Kirkpatrick said, read: "I think it is fair to laugh in cancer's face, as it so rudely moved into my boob without permission, so we will do that."

Since word of Zoellner's cancer got out and Richardet sent messages about the 5K event, the number of people participating in the race or coming to watch has grown rapidly, Kirkpatrick said. They have ordered around 50 Holly Team T-shirts for race day.

Mabuce plans to participate in the race either as a runner or a volunteer. She said a positive attitude is the most important thing one can have when battling cancer, and she believes Holly has one.

"The thing about cancer is you can't let it take you," Mabuce said. "It may take your life one day, but you can't let it get you. You have to keep your head up and never give up."

The first "Running for the Girls" 5K event will be at 8 a.m. Saturday in downtown Cape Girardeau. It will begin on Main Street in front of Hutson's Furniture, go up William Street, winding its way through town and back to the starting location. Registration opens at 7:30 a.m. the day of the race at the starting location. The cost is $30.

Pertinent addresses:

MedAssets, 280 S. Mount Auburn Rd., Cape Girardeau, MO

Race start, 43 S. Main St., Cape Girardeau, MO

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