Cup 25

Person: Betsy Miner-Swartz

Drink: House coffee from Edmund’s

By the time I got to the Edmund’s, I was 15 minutes late and flustered from an unexpectedly hectic afternoon. I had let Betsy know of my delay, but that didn’t loosen the knot in my stomach knowing I potentially ruined the first impression.

I rushed into the restaurant and spotted Betsy immediately. She was patiently waiting at a booth, the sunlight streaming in from the tall windows facing Michigan Avenue, cup of coffee in hand.

“Betsy! I am so sorry for being late”

Her response was untroubled and lifted the worry off my shoulders, “I think there are worse things than having to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee for 15 minutes.” I knew immediately I was going to like Betsy, and with the mayhem of the day behind me, I was ready to slow down and enjoy good coffee in good company. 

Betsy is a communications specialist with Gift of Life Michigan. Since 2009, she has worked diligently to both promote statewide organ, eye and tissue donation and grow the Michigan Organ Donor Registry. It is an important job because Michigan has fallen behind the national average in terms of number of registered donors. Michigan also has 2,993 residents waiting for transplants.

As we were discussing the nature of the issue, Betsy fidgeted with her cell phone, which had a ‘Donate Life’ sticker prominently displayed on the back. It is clear this is more than just a job to her; it is a mission to save lives.

It’s also not a position she ever expected to be in. To say Betsy’s life has drastically changed over the past decade is putting it mildly.

In 1986, Betsy graduated with a Journalism degree from Central Michigan University. Three days later, she found herself navigating the real-world newsroom at the Sturgis Journal. She’d known she wanted to be a journalist since high school and was determined to build a strong career.  It wasn’t long before her writing skills and work ethic landed her a gig in Port Huron, then at the Lansing State Journal.

For more than 15 years, she worked at the State Journal, moving up through the news ranks, collecting awards and accolades along the way. After a series of promotions, Betsy found herself running the news desk—feeling more pressure than ever before.

It was the most challenging role of her career, especially with the uncertain future of print media, but Betsy had always been able to handle high stress situations. She knew she could make it work.

But then something happened in her personal life that changed everything. In 2005, her father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

The diagnosis was completely unexpected. At age 67, Betsy’s father was in great health. He should have had years of life left to live. It was difficult news and Betsy, the oldest of three daughters, responded by taking an active role in his treatment and providing support for her mother.

It was soon clear she had too much on her plate. That’s when Betsy’s partner of seven years, Robin Miner-Swartz, encouraged Betsy to do something she never would have considered — quit her job. Robin also worked at the State Journal, which was a job that offered full benefits for domestic partners. It was an important decision and one Betsy is evidently grateful Robin helped her make. She turned in her resignation letter and shifted her priorities to what really mattered.

As Betsy said, if you had to get cancer, pancreatic isn’t the type you’d choose. She braced herself for the worst and, sadly, lost her father in 2006. Then, as if dealing with the loss of her father wasn’t hard enough, her 66-year-old mother was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer a year and a half later; she passed away in 2009.

It was heart-rending to hear her story and impossible for me to fathom what it must have been like going through such an experience. I wasn’t sure how to respond, but eventually settled on asking her how she did it — how she climbed the Mount Everest of life challenges.

“I focused on one thing at a time.”

She said she chose one thing — the most important thing on her to-do list, and did it. That might mean taking a shower, it might mean driving to the funeral home to plan a funeral. When she finished that task, she moved on to the next most important task. She didn’t think about the bigger picture because it was too overwhelming, the stress would have broken her down. But that wasn’t an option — she had to find a way to make it through. So with focus, and the support of Robin at her side, she kept going.

Today as she looks back, it is clear her life has been transformed by the experience. Her outlook on life is different. Her priorities have changed. 

Betsy said grief shapes us. She said without the adversity in her career and personal life, she wouldn’t be able to appreciate the satisfying life she has now. Each day she wakes up thankful for another day and the blessings it will bring.

Betsy also said she firmly believes that everything happens for a reason. While losing her parents was the hardest thing she’s ever endured, without the experience she wouldn’t have quit her job and now be working in a field that literally helps save lives every single day. When she was ready to go back to work, a friend at Gift of Life Michigan contacted her about an available position. Betsy decided it was the right fit and hasn’t looked back since. 

Grief, heartache and loss are inevitable. We often can’t predict what will happen, or when, but what I learned from Betsy is that we get to choose how we are going to deal with the challenges life brings. Betsy decided to tackle adversity head on, decided she was going to find the strength to keep going until the worst was over.

That’s what I gained from Cup 25 — strength to keep going.

I know life will throw twists and turns my way — that I’ll encounter plenty of rough spots along my journey — but keeping Betsy’s story with me will be a powerful reminder that with the right attitude and the right people at my side, I can find the strength to endure anything. It’s just a matter of focusing on one thing at a time.

And trusting every cloud has a silver lining.