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Honoring Susie Lindquist Mjelde 20 Years Later

On August 9, 2022, we recognize the 20th anniversary of Susie Lindquist Mjelde’s passing. Susie was a mom, wife, educator, a supportive friend, sister, and colon cancer advocate. To honor her memory, we spoke with her daughter, Heather, and Susie’s sister and our founder, Kristin Lindquist, about her legacy.

Susie Lindquist Mjelde of Seattle, Washington, was a lifelong learner. After graduating from Nathan Hale High School, she attended the University of Washington, joined the Alpha Phi Sorority, and received her BA in psychology in 1977. The previous year, she married Jeffery Mjelde, and had three children, Heather, Gavin, and David. Susie was a life-long runner. She ran cross-country in high school, then with her husband, and friends from college, all the way up until her diagnosis.

Heather and her siblings remember Susie as a mom that was always organizing. Every family moment was meant to be fun and meaningful.

“She would always have a new song to share that we could all dance to and always would make sure we had all the things to make whatever the celebration was special. She made us feel loved by her care to detail and constant support in everything we did. When we say she was uplifting, she always made you feel like you were the most important person in the room. She made us laugh with her funny jokes and humor.”

Susie also had a passion for music. She was always dancing, playing songs, and singing with her family. Her favorite band was Earth Wind and Fire (“Shining Star,” “September,” and “Boogie Wonderland,” to name a few). Some of Heather’s fondest memories with her mom were seeing Madonna and Gloria Estefan in concert.

Susie found her vocation as a devoted and compassionate paraprofessional.

“She had a gift for helping others and connecting with them, and she so excelled with her work assisting kids with reading, math, and her teaching and support with disabled students,” remembers Heather.

In December of 1999, Susie was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. She was only 44.

Her diagnosis was shocking. Heather was in her senior year of college, while her middle brother was finishing high school, and her youngest brother was just four years old. Prior to Susie’s diagnosis, there was no family history of colon cancer.

“I think the main thing that was hard about my mom being sick, is she really wasn’t herself because of the pain and disease’s toll on her body. And that was incredibly hard for her, especially because she was someone who usually gave her all to everyone in our family.”

In the late 90s and early 2000’s, the discussion around colon cancer had focused on older, predominately white, men. Susie didn’t fit the demographic profile of someone with colon cancer. How could she find support, or people to talk to about her shared experience? How many other young mothers were also being diagnosed with colon cancer with no broader community to turn to?

Her diagnosis made her wonder why colon cancer wasn’t talked about more. Why were so many diagnosed and suffering in silence? Her thoughts on colon cancer’s obscurity, despite its mortality rate if caught early with routine screening, were part of a growing movement of patients and survivors across the country that were wondering the same thing. Kristin recalled sitting with Susie after her diagnosis and both wondered what they could do to make a difference, and help others see the need to destigmatize colon cancer.

“We both wondered: ‘can we really do this? Can we really make a difference?’ It wasn’t about getting attention, it was about fixing a problem, and making people talk about butts, and asses, and colon cancer.”

Even through her brutal diagnosis, Susie was always thinking of others, doing what she could to pull colon cancer out of medical obscurity and encourage others to get screened. Thus, the concept for Get Your Rear in Gear was developed by Susie and her sister, Kristin, with the Mercer Island Rotary to raise awareness during the Mercer Island Half-Marathon weekend. The Colon Cancer Coalition, led by Kristin, brought Get Your in Gear to life in Minneapolis in March 2005, almost three years after her passing.

From there, Get Your Rear in Gear has spread nationwide through the creation of local, volunteer and community-led run/walks under the Get Your Rear in Gear banner. Susie’s favorite color, orange, was incorporated into the races, and remains to this day. As a joke, her family referred to her as ‘Dr. Orange’ at race day, and Susie and Kristin were known for their all-orange outfits.

Susie passed away on August 9, 2002, with her family at her side. Susie and Kristin’s work has been a guiding light for the last twenty years. Their dedication to ending the stigma around colon cancer, and educating others in the process, has changed countless minds and continues to educate and inspire. When asked about how Susie would feel seeing how her legacy has impacted the Colon Cancer Coalition Kristin said: “Susie would be proud to know that twenty years on people are talking about butts, and Get Your Rear in Gear. Young people are talking about colon cancer, and it’s not just about ‘me,’ it’s about ‘we.’ What can we do to end colon cancer? To end the stigma? No one has to go through this alone or feel ashamed.”

When asked about the impact of Susie’s life and her diagnosis, Heather told us the following:

“The biggest thing our family, and myself, has taken away from this experience of losing my mom, is how important screening and being preventive about your health is. I have learned how crucial it is to listen to your body and not ignore symptoms. Also, many of us in our family have tried to make better health choices in our lives now that we know what things help reduce your risk for colon cancer. As a family, we realized this is not something that just affects a certain group of people, this affects all ages, genders and ethnicities.”

We’re deeply grateful for Susie’s legacy, and all the ways her family has worked to save lives. Their efforts to spread awareness about colon cancer in their community, to taking preventative health measures in their own family, and sharing Susie’s story is the dedication we need to put an end to colon cancer.

Thank you once again to Heather Hall, Kristin Lindquist, and the Lindquist family for all they’ve done for our work here at the Colon Cancer Coalition.

 

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