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Remembering my Late Wife Elizabeth

Kirk Bangstad

My wife Elizabeth lost her battle with cancer at the age of 47 on December 17th, 2018, 10:38 a.m. at the Howard Young Hospital in Minocqua.  That moment when she passed away is forever etched in my brain, and remembering it immediately draws tears. 

Elizabeth was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2012, after we had been dating for two years.  She was given 6 months to live at the time, and tearfully suggested that I save myself from inevitable pain and leave her.  I asked her to be my wife the next day and we were married a week later in a church full of friends and relatives. Imagine having to say the words “in sickness and in health” during the ceremony. 

Miraculously, the doctors found that her cancer was treatable, and Elizabeth went into remission.  During that time, we both left our jobs in NYC and went on a year-long honeymoon that eventually brought us to a rented lake house in Minocqua. Elizabeth loved this town, and after we decided to make Minocqua our home, she opened a stationary biking studio.  She was absolutely in her element teaching spinning classes, and I would sometimes need to wipe away a tear while marveling at her ability to inspire others.   “If you can’t hang with a stage 4 cancer patient,” she would say, “then you’re not working hard enough!”

The last year of Elizabeth’s life was extremely hard.  Her cancer morphed into one that wasn’t treatable, and it spread to her brain.  The doctors gave her large doses of steroids to stop the inflammation, which would make her extremely high strung and irritable. She saved all of her positive energy to continue inspiring others on the spinning bike, but started taking her anger out on me.

I called our oncologist in NYC, who was around my age and had become a personal friend, and asked him what I should do.  He said that cancer often destroyed families and relationships because the pain and fear of dying mixed with tumors affecting brain function often created chaotic emotions that were simply impossible to manage.  He advised me to be as caring as possible, and to try not to take anything personally.

In a fit of anger, Elizabeth asked me to leave the house in July of 2018, and I was estranged from her until September, when she asked me to come back home. Other than her death, those two months were the most painful of my life.  Imagine knowing you only have so much time left to spend with the woman you love, and that time was being wasted by anger and confusion.

My actions during that time make me cringe today.  I was so hurt at being cast out that I took to drinking and carousing to forget the pain.  Without getting too graphic, I wasn’t faithful to Elizabeth. I admit this because my life is quite public now that I’m running for office, and I prefer owning up to my mistakes on my terms instead of being dragged through the mud for political gain.

After reconciling, Elizabeth and I shared many sad but beautiful moments together in NYC at an assisted living facility adjoined to the hospital where she received treatment.  We knew there wasn’t much time left, and she finally reconciled her mind to the inevitable—her anger giving way to holding my hand.

I will always remember those peaceful days in NYC before she truly slipped away as our real goodbye to each other.

Now why would I write this story on my political blog while running for office?  It just seemed like the right thing to do in order to provide a window into who I am as a human being.  I have often struggled to comprehend how some politicians can turn a blind eye to corruption and actually cause people harm through bad public policy.  I know, after watching Elizabeth die, that I am simply incapable of voting for laws that hurt people, no matter how much I could stand to benefit financially or attain power or influence.

And after going through a clinical trial and meeting some of the world’s foremost thoracic oncologists in New York and Boston, I also can’t imagine how a politician could purposefully turn a blind eye to the science that would save people’s lives in order to help himself get re-elected.  I think this is why I’m so furious that Trump and his followers in Wisconsin’s legislature have cynically downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus. 

We need politicians who have empathy, and just want the job in order to help their communities--plain and simple.  It seems like such an easy concept, but here we are today: a majority of politicians in this state are content to do as they’re told, harming others, in order to keep their positions of power and influence.

Hopefully regardless of your political party, you will dig deep this November and vote for civility, empathy, honesty, and fairness.  Blue or red, voting for those attributes in a candidate will never lead you astray.

And hopefully this story may help those struggling with their own losses to know you’re not alone, and in community there is healing.

Written by Kirk Bangstad on 08/16/20

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