Cancer survivor alum speaks to students in honor of Public Health Week

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

By Megan Hale | Journalist

Baylor alumnus and professor Jennifer Martinsen addressed a group of Baylor University students at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in recognition of Public Health Week.

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

Throughout his discussion, Martinsen shared his story and personal experiences, emphasizing the importance of community, resilience and mental well-being when going through seasons of struggle.

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

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

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

Martinsen said that during hard times and easier times, humans need the help and company of others.

“Everything you’re going through – the good and the bad – we need people with us who are going to help us through these times when 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 palliative care teams occupying her family home – one for her grandmother and one for herself. Martinsen has met many people from all walks of life throughout his season in hospital confinement.

“What I learned [in the hospital] and I hope you all remember public health is never to judge where someone is coming from, but rather to provide help,” Martinsen said.

With a 30% survival rate and a supposedly zero chance of having children, Martinsen married the love of his life and had two children: son, Ben, and daughter, Molly.

Martinsen described Molly as “the gift given and taken away”. At age 10, Molly was diagnosed with brain cancer. After over a year of battling this disease, Molly passed away, leaving behind a legacy that lives on today.

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

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

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

Money raised is donated to brain cancer research, people who have a child with a life-threatening illness, and ministries sharing the name of Jesus around the world.

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

“There’s nothing I need to learn about faith or how to treat people or live life that I haven’t learned from my daughter,” Martinsen said.

Through a life marked by many types of pain, Martinsen learned to recognize the “value of 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 – via Baylor’s Department of Public Health Instagram page.

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