Molly Oliver’s dedication to the Chicago Cubs is no light matter. While living in Philadelphia, she made a point to trek to Citizens Bank Park every time her beloved Cubbies came to town. The 30-year-old Windy City native is a lifelong fan of everything Chicago, and on Sunday, May 8, Molly served as the baseball club’s Honorary Bat Girl, a competition a friend had secretly nominated her for earlier this year.
“I just love them even though they have caused me so much anxiety and heartbreak over the years,” Oliver says. “I really believe that we’re going do it this year. Even if they don’t, I love them more than ever before.”
The 2016 Honorary Bat Girl Contest was hosted by Major League Baseball in conjunction with the organization’s community efforts around Mother’s Day and breast cancer awareness. Winners were selected by a panel of judges, including fitness trainer Jillian Michaels, based on personal stories and current advocacy for breast cancer awareness. Winners were aided by votes from friends and family. Thirty women were chosen in total, one for each team.
“I was nominated back in February and it was a surprise,” Oliver says. “My friend nominated me; she wrote this beautiful story and I woke up one morning to my phone and email just blowing up … People reposting, tagging, going nuts on social media.”
The support was overwhelming — particularly from people Oliver had never met.
“There was a Facebook group that I was brought into [where] all of these strangers just voted, every single day, made memes and posts, and really got into it. When I learned I was a finalist, I told myself even if I don’t win, that alone was worth it.”
Oliver’s journey is a difficult one to tell. She first noticed the lump in her breast in February 2015, not long after moving back to Chicago from Philadelphia to support her family and younger sister, Grace, who had been diagnosed with brain cancer.
Grace’s diagnosis was a shock. Fresh out of her junior year at Saint Louis University, she had always been strong and healthy. She was off to spend her summer at home in Chicago, looking forward to her senior year with her closest friends. She had always dreamed of working with children, of one day having a family of her own. But then she had a seizure. And then she had surgery. And then she was diagnosed with stage IV brain cancer. And life would never be the same. When Molly officially learned of her own diagnosis, in June 2015, she didn’t want to tell anyone.
“It was really hard because I didn’t want to tell Grace, I didn’t want to tell my parents, I didn’t want to tell my boyfriend or my sister because we were already going through everyone’s worst nightmare,” Oliver says. “That was probably the hardest part, coming out to tell people. I just didn’t want to disappoint anybody.”
Grace passed away in July 2015. Oliver relied on others, friends and confidants, to spread the news of her own battle.
“People kept asking me how they could help and I said ‘here, here is how you can help,’” Oliver says. Sharing the news so Oliver wouldn’t have to was just one of the many ways Oliver felt supported during this time.
Oliver believes Sunday’s win over the Nationals was undoubtedly in part because of Grace, and she is still riding the weekend’s wave of excitement.
“My cheeks are still hurting from smiling so much,” she says. “I was able to meet Anthony Rizzo, which was like a dream come true; he’s a hero of mine. I was able to get my family — my mom, my dad, my boyfriend, and my sister Claire — out on the field. I was also able to get my girlfriend who nominated me and her husband on the field, so it was just a really cool experience.” Oliver and her family were given seats right behind home plate; she says that more than 50 friends and family came to the game to support her.
Although Oliver felt like “a kid on Christmas, if not better,” she knows this is only one step in her journey. She is expected to complete treatment in July.
“Of course, I would give back anything to get my sister back and be totally fine with never knowing about this contest, but the silver lining is that we’re getting the word out about brain cancer awareness as well as breast cancer awareness.”
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