One morning in August 2019, Kym Jolstad received a phone call that would break her heart — and ultimately set her on a new course in her life. Her mother, Kathie, had just been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
Kathie’s surgeon explained that many patients don’t experience symptoms until the disease has progressed too far for surgery. Kym and her family also learned that current noninvasive screening methods are generally unable to detect early-stage cancer, and that five-year survival rates remain low.
“I said ‘No, something needs to change,’” recalls Kym, a personal trainer, Pilates instructor, and nutrition coach who works at the Life Time in Minnetonka, Minn. She started thinking of ways to raise awareness and money — both to honor her mother and to fund research. “Sitting back isn’t my thing.”
Kym looked into existing charity fundraisers but wanted to do something that would raise awareness year-round. Ideas evaded her until finally, in January 2020, it struck her: Sell coffee and donate the proceeds. Her mom loved coffee — her days were structured around coffee dates and coffee breaks, and she had long nurtured friendships around cups of coffee.
“So, I thought about it, and an hour and a half later, I had messages out, and I was getting emails back, and the process was started.”
Within a few months, Kathie’s Coffee — a nonprofit organization that donates funds from the sales of its 12-ounce bags of medium-roast coffee to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) — was formed. In May 2020, Kym wrote her first $1,000 check to PanCAN.
Kym grew up surrounded by extended family in a small, tightknit town in northern Minnesota. When she was 12, her dad was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Her father’s illness, as well as her close community relationships, shaped her world view — and ultimately led to a career supporting others in their health and fitness.
“I realized there was no taking my abilities for granted,” Kym says. She was inspired to play sports, do aerobics, and even train for her first marathon, which she ran shortly after high school graduation.
More importantly, she saw that “there is something I can do to make a difference.” Kym participated in her first Walk MS® at age 12, and has since raised thousands of dollars for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Over time, Kym came to understand that her efforts reached beyond her family — and beyond the time frame of any given walk.
“At first, I thought I could fundraise to help my dad,” she says. “Well, my dad passed away five years ago, and I realized that it wasn’t him who I helped — it was all the people who are now being diagnosed.”
So, when her mom received her cancer diagnosis, Kym knew she wanted to play for the future.
Tapping Into Community
In the 21 years she’s worked at the Minnetonka club, Kym has formed strong relationships with hundreds of clients and colleagues. “I walk in every day with people who I know really appreciate what I can do for them,” she says.
In particular, she enjoys making connections between people. “You never know where those friendships will go,” she says.
When she first began researching coffee, she discovered just how strong her personal network was. A coworker recommended she speak with a local restaurateur — who happened to be a former client. She referred Kym to a local roaster who had experience creating specialty coffee to raise money for cancer.
Soon she was connected to all the people she needed to create the blend, roast the beans, design the labels, distribute to coffee shops around the Twin Cities, and sell online.
Pride in Action
After months of flurried activity, Kym was ready to tell her mom what she’d created. She overnighted bags of coffee from the Twin Cities to Kathie in her hometown, along with a message. “I told her I wanted to do something so that other families don’t have to experience what we did that day we got her diagnosis.”
Kym’s sister presented the coffee to their mom while Kym watched on a video call. “There weren’t a lot of words, but she was really proud,” Kym recalls. “I could tell.”
Kathie loved telling people about her coffee, and Kym loved being able to talk to her mom about something besides her illness. “I could say, Mom, I’m shipping to Alaska right now. Can you believe people in Alaska are drinking Kathie’s Coffee?”
Kathie passed away this past July. Though Kym’s fundraising could not have saved her mom’s life, she knows her efforts are making a difference. Every day, people share stories and connect on a Facebook group that Kym created — and the donations are adding up.
“I recently received a letter from PanCAN saying that our donations have already supported 10 grants for research,” she says. “It’s unbelievable.”