Dying With Dignity

I am part of a group of Minnesotans leading the effort to pass the End-of-Life Options Act. Modeled after Oregon’s Death with Dignity (DwD) law, it would authorize the practice of medical aid in dying. Terminally ill adults of sound mind may ask for and receive a prescription medication they can self-administer for a peaceful death if and when their suffering becomes unbearable. Six states and the District of Columbia currently authorize medical aid in dying and 20 more states have introduced legislation.

My volunteers inspire me and keep me working in this politically contentious environment. Sally quit her job to provide daily physical care for her mother who lingered for months before dying from leukemia. Dave watched his active, robust, elderly father slowly dwindle and die from metastatic melanoma. Pam supported her mother who, at the age of 80, discovered bladder cancer that had spread to her spine. All these committed caregivers were at the bedside when their loved ones expressed desire for a peaceful end.

-Dr. Rebecca Thoman, Compassion & Choices


Firefly Sisterhood

Diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32, when my children were one and three years old, I felt forced to strip life down to its simplest form: energy, and how to maximize the use of my dwindling supply. I searched for someone who could relate to my situation and offer support as I struggled to parent my girls while going through breast cancer treatment, but local groups were filled with older women. Eventually, as a survivor, I learned about Firefly Sisterhood. I now put my energy into supporting young women who are parenting through their own cancer experience. There is power, hope, and healing in connecting with another person who understands what you are going through.

My energy? It is limited. But with the help of breast cancer survivors, those recently diagnosed with breast cancer, caregivers, family and friends, we combine our energy to light the way from diagnosis to healing for the thousands of women diagnosed with breast cancer in Minnesota each year.

— Amy Tix


Giving and Finding Energy

I give and find my energy being around those who are passionate about their work — whether education, policy, law, business, writing, science or any field. There is power when people from all walks of life, race, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, or ability come together to discuss issues they are passionate about and find a common ground to stand on.

I give and find my energy knowing that I can make a difference for others. "Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile." I am giving my energy to my community by making sure that I contribute my talent of writing, and volunteering when possible. I am focusing my energy on women who are in the minority so that they can have a fair chance in the community when it comes to making decisions.

 — Oluwatobi Oluwagbemi


Transformation in Hospice

I am retired from a career in hospice as a grief counselor. Yet I continue in this work because it sustains me. I never fail to be awed and inspired by the resiliency of those surviving loss. The teacher who returned to the classroom after a death and used her pain as a teachable moment to read "Tear Soup." A parent who buried a child and started a bike helmet awareness program. Everyday experiences — weeping and smiling, exhaustion and newfound stamina, anger and forgiveness, loneliness and tranquil solitude, doubt and new perspectives of the sacred — all are transformative consequences of grief. It is my regular encounters with grieving people that nourishes my optimism and fractures my cynicism.

— Judy Young


The Ritual and Mountain Pose

I measure out my husband's cereal, pour his milk, and brew his coffee. I bring in the newspaper and put out the sign to announce we are "okay." I check his blood pressure and wash his back in the shower. In yoga class, I close my eyes. I breathe in. I breathe out. I find the quiet in my center. I stand tall in mountain pose. I make dinner and do laundry. I read "Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair" by Neruda.

— Katharine Málaga


Natural World

As an early childhood environmental educator, I am focused on empowering children to follow their own interests and curiosity, explore outdoors, and make connections with the natural world.

— Dani Porter Born


Kids at Risk Action

We both work with Kids at Risk Action (KARA). It is easier to raise a healthy child than try to rectify the dollars and damage that happens when we let a child slip through the cracks. In Tiffini's case, that realization came after determining that family court was not about supporting many families with children. As a member of the NAACP Child Protection Committee, she is working to pass the African-American Heritage Act. She supports people fighting for their children in a bureacratic system that can destroy a family in so many ways, including out-of-home placement, juvenile incarceration and the prison pipeline.

In Patti's case, she adopted four abused children. A family friend, who observed the process, was horrified by the child protection system and formed KARA 25 years ago.

Early trauma affects children's ability to reach full potential for the rest of their life. A CDC study, "Adverse Childhood Experiences," was recently highlighted on "60 Minutes" by Oprah Winfrey. The study found that you can help and treat, but not fix, brains that did not develop normally due to childhood trauma. The mission of KARA: increase understanding and awareness of the issues important to abused children by actively engaging the larger community in discussion and volunteerism.

 — Tiffini Flynn Forslund and Patti Hetrick, invisiblechildren.org


Being vs. Doing

When we think of giving energy, we immediately jump to doing work for others. I’d like to suggest that we consider the image of a gentle hug we give ourselves — making contact with our tired mind, body, and spirit, acknowledging that giving care to self allows for a more sustainable effort of caring for others. Perhaps sitting quietly on a park bench observing, admiring, and relishing the sights and sounds in the fresh air. The beauty of the re-set to self, whether I am the unapologetic woman saying "no" to one more commitment, or the apologetic woman saying "no" for the first time to heed the warning signs of overload.

I’ve had chronic Rheumatoid Arthritis for 24 years. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. I had chemo and radiation, seven reconstruction-related surgeries, including a double mastectomy, lip cancer twice with ongoing plastic surgery, skin cancer, colon surgery, and, in December, open lung surgery. Underneath it all simmers an auto-immune disease wreaking havoc on all areas of my body, yet I need to find value and purpose in what I “do.”

Even with those forces against me, I struggled to embrace self-care. I was forced to slow down, stop, rest, and evaluate caregiving, yet my mind was still tallying the self scorecard of how much can I “do?” How much am I “doing?” There was no column on my scorecard for just “being” and “self-care.” Those became self-criticizing words of laziness and failure.

It was as though my mind had a choke-hold on the parts of me that wanted to celebrate being mindful. Being restful. Being quiet. Being still. So after a lifetime of measuring how to keep “doing” more, the past five years have slowly taught me how to “be” more. The measurement stick of life is being replaced with measured stillness.

For any of you women out there who feel as though perfecting your sense of “being” and self-care is in anyway self-aggrandizing, I call B.S.

 — Susan Pettit


Mending the Mindset About Mental Illness

“The mentally ill frighten and embarrass us. And so we marginalize the people who most need our acceptance. What mental illness needs is more sunlight, more candor, more unashamed conversation.”

—Glenn Close, whose sister has bipolar disorder

Years ago, when dressing after ninth grade gym class, I noticed a wisp of blood on my panties. “These can’t be mine,” I hollered hysterically. I was whisked to the nurse’s office and then the ER. My first panic attack. Other incidents followed, but at 16, I snapped out of it. I made National Honor Society, the synchronized swim team, the girls' octet, and thespian of the year.

At age 22, I became a vagabond and traveled 40 countries in one year. At 25, I ran away from an alcoholic husband, bunking on family and friends' floors. I was constantly sleep-deprived with racing thoughts. Eventually I stabilized, moved to Minnesota, completed an MBA, and successfully pursued a corporate career.

After another episode at 30, I was finally diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety disorders and prescribed lithium. No one had told me the family history — my mother and grandfather were bipolar, and my uncle had schizophrenia. A victim of genetics.

One in five people suffer from enduring mental illness. As one person put it, "Mental illness is an equal opportunity illness. It strikes across all barriers of race and class. Yet the public perception is still the disheveled person on the street."

I get a lot more respect as a breast cancer survivor than I do as a person with chronic mental illness.

A majority of people with mental illness can be successfully managed — particularly if diagnosed early — with medication, psychotherapy, physical exercise, supportive social relationships, a healthy diet, meditation/relaxation and good sleep habits.

Today, in retirement I live a rich and fulfilling life. I am an Elder at my church, and a Community Board Member at the Ridgedale YMCA. I travel and write. I am a devoted and nurturing mother to my children and grandchild.

See and support me for who I am, not the illness. A caring community matters.

 — Cindy Johnson Suplick

Pet Love

I adopted a dog with socialization needs, who also needed to gain the strength to walk again. We eventually walked everywhere and got to know people who loved dogs or needed a dog to love. Now he insists on going for a walk about the time the school bus drops off the high schoolers, and when neighbors go to and from work. He greets everyone as his long-lost buddy. I now work around his social schedule. He’s healthy and strong now. It’s been a lot of well- invested energy and love.

 — Peggy Arado


My Energy Investment in the Deaf

Enhancing the quality of life for all people who are Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing is personal. As a Deaf person, I learned as a child that if I was going to succeed, I was going to break down barriers as part of my everyday job. I do not see myself as having an impairment, a disability, or any of the other terms. I see myself as someone who uses American Sign Language, and can succeed at whatever she sets her mind to. I have helped Deaf people navigate a system that had barriers in court, going to shelters, working with hearing service providers. As a Deaf life coach and yoga teacher, I have provided health, wellness, and yoga opportunities that are not available. I am the only Deaf yoga teacher in Minnesota, and 1 out of 20 in the country.

 — Jessalyn Akerman-Frank, Deaf Equity