Local food writer Holly Clegg is a household name—and not just in Capital City kitchens. She’s garnered national acclaim as a best-selling cookbook author and healthy cooking expert. And she holds other titles, too, like mother, grandmother and friend. But after being diagnosed with stomach cancer last year, she’s added another to her list: hometown hero.
“Baton Rouge has always loved Holly,” says Clegg’s best friend, Karen Stephens. “She has, through her amazing strength and grace and positivity through this journey, [become] a hometown hero.”
As much of the city already knows, Clegg was diagnosed in August 2018. Clegg spent 10 months fighting the cancer at MD Anderson in Houston, undergoing multiple rounds of chemotherapy, a gastrectomy and two HIPECs. And she endured all of this with the help of #TeamHolly, assembled by Stephens, who Clegg deemed the CFO, “Chief Fun Officer,” of her support system.
But in June, her family announced that Clegg would transition to hospice care at her home in Dallas, where she’s now spending time with family and friends. And although Clegg is residing in Dallas, her friends, fans and supporters in Baton Rouge are rallying behind her.
“It’s just been remarkable to see how much Baton Rouge supports her, loves her and continues to be inspired by her,” says Clegg’s daughter, Haley Clegg Nusbaum. “She always credits Baton Rouge for really putting her on the map, and it has been just the most amazing place for her to have her career.”
And a prime example of this support is coming up on Aug. 1 at the Varsity Theatre. Curtis Chastain and Kyle Talbert, members of Baton Rouge-based band The V-Tones, approached Stephens with the idea to host “A Night to Honor Holly Clegg“—a fundraising event dedicated to the Holly Clegg Gastric Cancer Research Fund, which Clegg started in June to raise money for gastric cancer research.
As Clegg discovered after her diagnosis, gastric cancer remains under-researched and underfunded. Clegg was diagnosed with a rare and late-stage form of the cancer after showing symptoms for only five days. And throughout her battle, Clegg participated in research studies and clinical trials, which eventually inspired her to start the fund. Her efforts haven’t gone unnoticed—within the first two weeks, the fund collected about $75,000 and now totals more than $100,000.
Nusbaum says they talked about starting the fund for about a year before its official launch, and at the time, they intended for Clegg to spearhead the project herself. But her transition to hospice care has changed the fund’s operation. “Now [the fund] is more about the legacy that she’ll leave,” Nusbaum says. “But our aspirations are really focused on helping change the outcome of other people … It’s really all about helping to advance treatment options, and again, hoping that other families don’t have to go through what we’re all going through now.”
And thanks to donations from the community, 100% of the Varsity Theatre event proceeds will go to just that. Stephens and Chastain have planned a jam-packed night, including performances by The V-Tones with special guests Allison Collins and David St. Romaine. Clegg also hopes to attend the event, pending her health.
Stephens and Nusbaum hope the night will be a tribute to Clegg and the attitude she’s maintained throughout her fight. Stephens sums up Clegg’s outlook in the motto that Clegg’s embraced since her diagnosis: This is the time to keep living.
“We don’t know the shape and form that [the fund] will take,” Nusbaum says. “Hopefully one day the survival rate for stomach cancer can compete with some of the other cancers that have significant research.” But until then, Nusbaum says, “I don’t think we’ll stop fighting until we get there.”
The Varsity Theatre is at 3353 Highland Road.