JLC Shero- Meg Hardee

It is always humbling to be among so many outstanding women in the JLC and our JLC sustaining member and Shero, Mega Kinnard Hardee, is one exceptional woman.  What is a “shero”?  According to Oxford Languages, it is “a woman admired or idealized for her courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities; a heroine”.

So, what makes Meg a shero?  To start she recently won the Oliver S. Gramling Spirit Award at the Associated Press (AP) in October 2022 through her job with the Associated Press (AP) and while this is impressive by itself, she did it while battling Stage 3C inflammatory breast cancer, among the rarest and most aggressive forms of the disease.  In the AP’s write up of the awards, they said that “Kinnard’s dogged reporting, perseverance and collegiality make her stand out. She’s a journalist’s journalist – from going above and beyond her duties to be a sole news gatherer across formats, to being the first to volunteer to help on breaking news. Beyond all this, Kinnard, like so many AP colleagues across the globe, manages to do extraordinary work under extraordinary personal stress. Despite being diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, Kinnard worked as she went through treatment, even setting up a room to conduct Zoom interviews in the hospital. She exemplifies many unsung heroes at the AP.”

Meg has been in journalism since 1998 when she joined the staff of The Georgetown Independent at Georgetown University.  She started as a staff writer and then editor.  She “I loved having an inside look at what was happening on campus, and having access to decisionmakers not always generally available to the student population. I realized that asking questions of people in positions of power – and holding them accountable to their answers – had real value to the campus community. That experience led me to a mentor, who suggested that I reconsider a career in the diplomatic corps and instead try journalism, helping me get a senior year internship at The Washington Post, which led to a job with National Journal magazine. It’s been a wild 24 years, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”  After being with National Journal for over three years, she left DC and came to South Carolina in 2005 to become a reporter with AP.  Since taking that job, she has covered hurricanes, train derailments, legal affairs, death penalty trials, and politics (both state and national levels).  When asked what was her favorite journalism moment, Meg said “It’s very difficult to distill 24 years of journalism into one notable moment. There have been many experiences that have held their own special places, like breaking a big accountability story, covering a raucous presidential debate spin room or talking to legions of Black Friday shoppers clamoring for 3 a.m. deals.  But one story I will never forget is my immersion in coverage of the Mother Emanuel tragedy, which enveloped our state – and at times, the entire nation. During the summer of 2015, I spent weeks on end in Charleston, reporting the story from my temporary AP headquarters at my mother’s home, just blocks from the church. When Geoffrey drove down to see me one evening, I took off my reporter hat and just let myself experience the grief, emotion and togetherness of those who gathered for nights on end, in the streets outside the historic structure. We sang, we cried and we had fellowship with people drawn together not necessarily because they had personally lost someone at that fateful Bible study, but because they felt compelled to memorialize what had happened there, and not to let humanity forget it. Allowing myself to do that, to be in community with strangers knit by a common emotional experience, gave me the context to, hopefully, do justice to the victims in my reporting. Moreover, I think it helped me be a better person, too.”

While Meg has been immersed in her career and making great strides, her world stood still early 2021, when she was diagnosis with breast cancer.  “I had been getting regular mammograms for years, ever since finding a “pebble” in my left breast in 2017, at age 37. Doctors told me it was likely a hormonal change and would go away, but it never did. Four years later, all of a “sudden,” I had advanced-stage cancer. This didn’t happen overnight; surgery eventually showed the cancer had indeed been growing for years, exactly where I had found that pebble. Given that lag, I immediately sought a second opinion at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, to ensure we were on top of all of the details. There, my diagnosis was corrected from the most common type of breast cancer – invasive ductal carcinoma – to Stage 3C inflammatory breast cancer, among the rarest and most aggressive forms of the disease. At that point, I handed my care entirely over to MD Anderson, whose experts began acting as quarterbacks for my local oncology team, directing my chemotherapy protocols and making plans for my extensive double mastectomy surgery and radiation treatments. I moved to Houston for three months last year for those procedures, which were successful. Since October 2021, I have been “no evidence of disease” status, which means there is no detectable cancer in my body. There is a lifetime ahead of me of working to keep cancer from recurring, but my prognosis is very good.  A lot of things and people have helped me through this. One of those was my work with AP. I was fortunate that I felt healthy enough to keep working through my treatment, including chemotherapy, and that in and of itself kept me going. There are so many things about dealing with cancer that we can’t control, but being able to harness my ability to continue reporting, hitting the campaign trail and interviewing newsmakers like I normally would, safeguarded for me one important facet of my identity that cancer couldn’t take. Sure, I sometimes had on a pink wig at a political event, after my hair fell out during chemo, but it was still me under there, asking tough questions and taking photos for AP. My managers and colleagues have backed me, and my family, the entire way through this experience, which included that three-month move to Houston. The ability to continue reporting, from airplanes and clinics and my temporary Houston homebase, helped keep my mind focused on one of the avenues on which I envisioned my path would continue after treatment was over, and that has been invaluable.

I still go to Houston every three weeks to receive immunotherapy treatment as part of a clinical trial, and my husband Geoffrey, our three kids and I have settled into this new-normal rhythm. Moving forward, I continue to push for women to be our own best advocates, particularly when it comes to our health. If I hadn’t chosen – and been fortunate enough to be able – to seek a second opinion at MD Anderson, my own outcome and prognosis would not have been as good as they have been. I’ll have more to say on this front hopefully soon, but I am committed to being part of the solution in ensuring that more women have the opportunity to seek second opinions without cost-related impediments holding them back from making the trip. When I won the Oliver S. Gramling Prize, AP’s top internal honor, earlier this year, I pledged to put my winnings toward such an effort, so, stay tuned!”

When Meg is not knocking it out of the park at work, she officially joined AP’s Washington bureau earlier this year as a national politics reporter, focusing on the politics of the U.S. South, as well as breaking political news and the Republican presidential field for the 2024 election”; or kicking cancer to the curb, she can be found helping with the JLC Centennial celebrations for the 2023-2024 League year.  She is enjoying being “back in the mix on the communications front, coordinating JLC’s efforts to publicize internally and externally everything we are doing to mark our exciting 100th year”.