Cancer survivor, alumna speaks to students in honor of Public Health Week

Jennifer Martinsen spoke to a group of Baylor University students in recognition of Public Health Week. Photo courtesy of Grace Tannous

By Megan Hale | Reporter

Baylor alumna and professor Jennifer Martinsen spoke to a group of Baylor University students at 7:30 pm on Wednesday in recognition of Public Health Week.

“We wanted to do one event focused on mental wellness because that’s something we think is really important for college students,” Hoover, Ala., senior Piper Latham said.

Throughout her discussion, Martinsen shared her story and personal experiences, highlighting the importance of community, resilience and mental wellness when walking through seasons of struggle.

“My goal, honestly, is to illustrate through chapters of my own personal ‘book’ how collaboration and teamwork keep you going while hiking in the highest mountains and going through the deepest valleys that you can ever imagine,” Martinsen said.

Martinsen is also a former Baylor volleyball athlete. The professor currently teaches stress management, volleyball and hiking.

“I chose [Martinsen] to come speak because of her impact on myself,” Sugar Land senior Grace Tannous said. “Her class was just an amazing class to take, and I learned so much from her.”

Martinsen said that during both difficult and easier moments, humans require others’ assistance and company.

“Anything that you go through — the good and the bad — we need people with us that are going to help us get through those times that we need resilience,” Martinsen said.

Several years after leaving home to attend Baylor University as a student athlete, Martinsen was diagnosed with severe leukemia, with two hospice teams occupying her family home — one for her grandmother and one for herself. Martinsen met many individuals of all walks of life through her season of being confined to a hospital.

“What I learned [in the hospital] and what I hope all of you going into public health remember is to never judge where someone is coming from, but to instead extend help,” Martinsen said.

With a 30% survival rate and a supposed no chance of ever having children, Martinsen went on to marry the love of her life and have two children: her son, Ben, and her daughter, Molly.

Martinsen described Molly as “the gift given and taken away.” At 10 years old, Molly was diagnosed with brain cancer. After over a year of fighting this illness, Molly passed away, leaving behind a legacy that continues to live on today.

For many months, Martinsen said she struggled with anger toward God. However, through her hope, resilience and community, she made it through and chose to use her daughter’s legacy to help others.

In memory of Molly, the Martinsen family started the Molly Martinsen Foundation. Each year, they continue to host the Volley for Molly volleyball tournament.

“In one day, we raise between $20,000 and $25,000, and 30 to 40 teams wake up and play, and then we get to give it all away,” Martinsen said.

The money raised is donated to brain cancer research, individuals who have a child suffering from a life-threatening illness and ministries sharing the name of Jesus around the world.

Martinsen also said Baylor University athletics has continued to honor Molly’s legacy by renaming the women’s volleyball locker room in her memory.

“There is nothing that I need to learn about faith or about how to treat people or how to live life that I have not learned from my daughter,” Martinsen said.

Through a life marked by many types of pain, Martinsen has learned to recognize the “value in the struggle.”

As Public Health Week lasts through Sunday, students have the opportunity to continue learning about important public health topics — including health as a human right, accessibility and environmental equity — through the Baylor Department of Public Health Instagram page.