Once again, the InSpire advisory board had a difficult decision in choosing this year’s InSpiring Women. The criteria for 2012 nominees were women who were affected by breast cancer in some way or form. This includes survivors, caretakers and those who have made a difference in the lives of those affected by the disease. Nominations came from all over Dodge, Columbia, Fond du Lac and Jefferson Counties. Only three women could be chosen under the categories of Heart, Health and Happiness…not an easy task.
Please take time to read the amazing stories of three women who took on adversity and unselfishly made a difference in the communities and counties in which they live.
Join us on Thursday, October 4th, to help celebrate these dynamic women!
Lois Augustson of Beaver Dam
Lois Augustson, RN, has found a way to combine her parish nursing ministry with an outreach to the uninsured of the community. Working with her husband, Michael K. Augustson, MD, along with a committed grass roots coalition they have developed a free clinic to help those who have no other access to primary care.
Lois, the mother of four and grandmother of 8, modestly states, “I’m just trying to help in my little corner of the world.”
Inspired by people like Mother Theresa and her parents, she determined early on she wanted to find a way to help people.
She says, “My father was a person of honesty, integrity and compassion. That laid the foundation for what I ended up doing. He was an encourager and that has rubbed off on me.”
In 1975 Lois got her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing and later her Masters in community health.
“My love for public health nursing started with my public health instructor when I was in Chicago,” she recalls.
Initially, Lois set out to get a degree in education but after a year she decided she’d rather go into nursing in order to help people. She says, “My Mom helped find a school that would transfer the credits I already had.”
She’s also quick to point out that God has a plan for everyone. She states, “I am open to what God has given me and how I can use my talents.”
Those talents include a passion for people and the ability to organize and lead and inspire others to get involved.
Of her work with the Church Health Services she says, “It was so much more than me. This is God’s work. It’s the community’s work. The community is incredibly supportive of building this mission. It is amazing what you can do when you get so many people working together.”
Lois was not involved with Church Health Services when it started. She notes, “My husband and our pastor started this program. My husband is a visionary. He could see the need and it is what drew us to Beaver Dam. I stayed out of it because I wasn’t sure about husband and wife working together and about how people in the community would accept husband-wife team.”
She recalls, “The first time I went and saw what they were doing in the education wing of our church, I was simply amazed. This was such a wonderful way to provide care for people looking at the whole person. Studies show that a large number of illnesses are related to the psychological and spiritual parts of our lives.”
She goes on to state, “When God arranged my life so I could be available, when the time came that they needed me, I said ‘yes’.”
In 1994 she received her first training as a parish nurse. She says that helped her to understand her own faith and the term ‘heart healing.’ She says for her it has been a perfect fit.
She believes that God is the ultimate healer and that relationship issues such as holding back forgiveness and keeping things bottled up inside are very harmful to a person’s physical health. Parish nurses are able to look closer at the whole picture related to a person’s health.
“We look at whole person care, attending to their social and spiritual needs,” she says.
Just recently Church Health Services has been able to get its own building. She believes this will not only add to efficiency but it will also encourage those who were reluctant to enter a church for their health care to feel comfortable coming to the clinic.
The new building will also enable them to expand some of the services offered including the addition of dental and mental health services.
Lois says, “We’ve been told we’re Beaver Dam’s best kept secret but the secret is getting out. Trinity hosted CHS clinics for nearly 20 years rent-free. Without their help it would have been very difficult to become established. They were awesome partners in caring.”
She says parish nursing is all about prevention, healthy eating, and spiritual encouragement.
She concludes, “We can help each other to be healthy. Our vision is to become a community of healers and help people realize that everyone can become involved. You don’t have to be a nurse. You can bring food to someone, drive someone to appointments, pray for each other, and let people know about services available.”
Muriel Harper of Beaver Dam
Muriel Harper’s husband died when the youngest of their six children was just 9 years old. This energetic community volunteer is now not only a mother but a grandmother of 11 and soon to be a great-grandmother.
Her giving lifestyle was interrupted briefly last fall when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Like many hearing those dreaded words, she was depressed and had what she now calls a “poor me” attitude. But with the support and encouragement of family, friends and her church she shook that feeling of depression and went back to her busy life of volunteerism.
She says, “The fact that I had a bout with cancer is a minor thing about me. I won’t let it define who I am. I’m much more than a cancer survivor.”
So how is Muriel defined?
Her family defines her as an inspiration. Those she has helped through her volunteer work at the American Red Cross define her as a blessing and a helper in their time of need. Those involved with the Beaver Dam Exchange Club define her as a generous supporter of many worthwhile projects.
She modestly states that many people have made a difference in her own life and helped lead her to a life of giving. A person’s life is influenced by the people they meet and the experiences they have had.
The first big influence in her life was her grandma who raised her. “Grandma devoted her life to me very unselfishly. She gave me my values and virtues and it was always important to her that I did my studying and got to church. Grandma only had a third grade education but she read a lot of books and trained herself to do math problems every day. She was self taught but recognized the importance of getting an education.”
Muriel had two years of college when she married her husband, Bill. Together they raised six children and she continued to take a few college courses. When he had his first heart attack he encouraged her to finish college.
“He believed the best way he could see to it his wife was cared for was to make sure she had an education,” she says.
A year after his first heart attack he died the day after Christmas. She earned her college degree the next May. She later completed her Masters’ degree after her last daughter graduated from law school.
That degree led her to her career in the mental health field working at state institutions. Now retired she jokes, “I escaped from two prisons and two mental hospitals.”
In her retirement she did volunteer work with the American Red Cross. That took her on numerous missions including New York City following the incidents of 9-11 and to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. She also serves as supervisor for the local disaster team, assisting families after fires or other disasters and she trains Red Cross workers for giving psychological first aid to workers and victims of disasters.
As mental health manager for the Red Cross she made herself available for counseling victims of disasters and also the volunteer workers who needed counseling after seeing destruction and suffering first hand.
She says anyone who can pour a glass of orange juice can get involved as a Red Cross volunteer. No particular training is needed. Those volunteers who work in mental health or nursing need licenses but others only need a willingness to leave on short notice.
She doesn’t plan to renew her license this year.She says, “At 82 I think I’m getting too old to sleep on gym floors.”
Another big influence in her life was her experience as Mrs. Wisconsin in 1961.
She says, “My husband had retired from the Navy and went back to school. We had five children and we needed a refrigerator. One of the prizes in the competition was a new refrigerator.”
There were 200 applicants and judges narrowed it down several times until she was one of the six finalists. She spent a week in Milwaukee at the Home Show participating in the on-stage competition.
“We had to prepare a meal, do laundry, set a table, arrange flowers, do hair styles and answer a lot of questions,” she recalls.
“They wanted someone who was all things to all people. A good mother, cook, housekeeper and someone involved in community service and who still managed to look good,” she says.
Part of her final selection involved the judges interviewing her husband.
She says, “The husband of the winner had to agree to it because the winner would travel around the country and he would need to be the house husband while Mrs. Wisconsin was gone.
“He learned how to shampoo little girls’ long hair and take care of things while I was gone,” she says. “He was very supportive.”
She said the experience was wonderful. “I got to go so many places and meet so many people. I couldn’t have done that otherwise.”
As president of the Beaver Dam Exchange Club, Muriel has been instrumental in helping raise funds for numerous worthy causes in the Beaver Dam area.The Club’s most recent project was hosting the American Hero Festival honoring military presently serving and those from the Dodge County area who have given their lives in the military.
The club’s mission is four-part: Americanism, prevention of child abuse, promoting teen activities and community service.
Muriel’s charities of choice for proceeds from the InSpiring Women event are the Central Wisconsin Community Action Council, Badger Honor Flight and the Dodge County Humane Society. She serves as secretary for Central Wisconsin Community Action Council’s Board of Directors. CWC is a 5-county organization that supervises 15 food banks and runs the Beaver Dam homeless shelter.
Her children have urged her to prioritize and learn to say “no” to some things, Muriel has heeded their advice somewhat but she continues to be a busy volunteer, noting, “It’s better to wear out than to rust out.”
Sarah Troxell of Oshkosh
When you look to the needs of others you take the focus off of yourself and that’s a blessing.”
That’s how Sarah Troxell looks at her volunteer work with the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program.
She doesn’t consider it “work” but rather a labor of love. Through the program she reaches out to those who have heard their doctors say those dreadful words, “you have cancer.”
Sarah understands what it’s like. In 2003 doctors said those words to her.
She says, “When you hear the word ‘cancer’, it hits you like a ton of bricks. The thing that helped me get through it was all the support I had from family and friends.”
She recalls getting cards and phone calls from friends, including from an out-of-state cousin who she wasn’t even aware had gone through it herself. A good friend made a quilt with lots of encouraging words on it. The night before her lumpectomy the elders from her church came to her home to pray with her.
“It’s so comforting to know you’re not alone,” she states.
Within a year after one of her treatments, she was reaching out to help others like her.
The American Cancer Society matches cancer survivors with those who have just been diagnosed. She says, “I contact the person and, if they want, I keep in contact the entire period that cancer remains a personal concern.”
As a Registered Nurse she understands how confusing medical terms and explanations can be to patients. When people first find out they have cancer, they may feel overwhelmed, vulnerable and alone. While under this stress, many people must also learn about and try to understand complex medical treatments and then choose the best one.
She says, “We are trained and the program assures the people that what we talk about is confidential. Just being able to talk with someone who has experienced this gives a measure of comfort and an opportunity for emotional grounding and informed decision-making.”
She points out that because the volunteers are breast cancer survivors, patients feel more comfortable expressing their feelings, fears and concerns. The volunteers offer understanding, support, and hope because they themselves have survived breast cancer and gone on to live normal, productive lives.
Sarah says she has developed some genuine friendships through this program. One person she met through the program was 29 and planning her wedding when she was diagnosed. Sarah was there for her through the entire ordeal and when the young gal married, Sarah and her husband were invited to the wedding. This young cancer survivor has since had two children.
Sarah personally understood what this young gal was going through because since she was 25 Sarah has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and she had a stroke at 31.
She and her husband, Gary, had a daughter, Laura, but when she suffered the stroke doctors advised that they not have any more children. That wasn’t their plan so they decided to adopt a son, John.
She’s grateful for that family and says they have been her loving support all these years.
She considers her illness a blessing, of sorts, because their children grew up to be giving, caring adults because they saw what a loving spouse does to support a wife “in sickness and in health.”
She says, “Laura and John grew up seeing me deal with my arthritis and they saw how supportive their dad was of me. Children learn a lot from their parents’ examples and they learned what it means for a spouse to be supportive, helpful and loving. They became more aware of the needs of others and more accepting of those who have physical challenges and needs because of the experience.”
“Gary helps me every day with things I can’t do for myself,” she says. “He has been there for me from the start, through 13 orthopedic surgeries including hip replacements, two on each side.”
Gary is a medical technologist and works at the lab at Mercy Hospital in Oshkosh where she is an RN. When she needs blood work done he draws her blood at home. When he is working with a young patient who is overwhelmed by their condition he shares his wife’s experience and offers hope.
Their daughter now lives in Texas. She and her husband have one child and are expecting another. Sarah is excited about being a grandma.
Asked where she draws her strength Sarah doesn’t even hesitate. “I definitely draw my strength from my Christian faith. I don’t know how anyone gets through the ordeals I’ve gone through without knowing there is a loving God watching out for them.”
She also finds encouragement in the pages of InSpire Magazine. While she lives at Oshkosh, the Beaver Dam based magazine reaches far beyond Dodge County. Sarah says her husband picked up a copy in a waiting room at the hospital and gave it to her to read. She was so inspired by the stories that she became a subscriber.