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Thanks and Giving

By Christine Trask

It was last March 2014, during my dance trip in Mazatlan, Mexico, that I had the pleasure of meeting Sue MacGibbon, an enthusiastic, fun-loving friend. Our connection was immediate, as we had a mutual love for the sun and surf, dance, and living life to the fullest. It was on this trip that I began to learn Sue’s story of overcoming a life-threatening autoimmune illness while going through the loss of her twenty-eight-year marriage. As our friendship blossomed, I learned more of Sue’s story of thanks and giving. She has agreed to share the following personal interview with you readers this month of Thanksgiving.

In the year 2007, Sue was diagnosed with scleroderma, a very rare autoimmune disease that causes the body to overproduce collagen, resulting in the hardening of body tissues and skin. An amazing doctor at the University of Minnesota, who was a leading researcher of this disease, turned out to be her lifesaver. During the first five years of her illness, Sue's symptoms continued to intensify. She had extreme joint and tendon pain and, at a certain point, was unable to get out of bed or even raise an arm or leg. Eighteen months of blood plasma infusions followed, accompanied by a very intense medication regimen. About seven years have passed now, and thankfully, the disease has calmed down significantly. Sue takes medication daily, eats healthy, meditates, prays, rests as needed, and, of course, dances.

Sue is thankful for dance because it has given her hope that her health will continue to improve and that all things are possible. Prior to her illness, she was actively involved in competitive tennis, but after her scleroderma diagnosis, it was not long before she was unable to grip a tennis racket or run and maneuver in the court.

It wasn’t until four years later that Sue began to dance. She was surprised that her feet, having been affected seriously by her illness, allowed her to achieve most of the necessary movements with the right shoes and inserts. Dance not only met a need for physical exercise, but the music was therapeutic to her spirit, and the social interaction was stimulating as well. Sue is thankful for her illness, because without it, she would have never have found her wonderful new friends, her supportive new church family, and a new life perspective of giving back as a way to serve others and bring joy to herself.

It was important to Sue that she do something that would take her mind off of herself as she was working to heal from her illness and the loss of her marriage. She wanted to build new relationships and find a way to make a difference in others' lives. A good friend of hers suggested that she volunteer as a personal shopping consultant at Ready for Success, a nonprofit organization that prepares women from various disadvantaged backgrounds to get back into the professional workforce by dressing them in three complete, interview-appropriate outfits. Sue has never felt more valued or empowered than she does now when she is able to shift a woman’s whole demeanor. Sue sees these women transformed from being down and out and humiliated to holding their heads high, big smiles on her faces with optimistic, can-do attitudes.

I had the pleasure of visiting Ready For Success one weekday with Sue. The bulletin board is full of thank-you cards from their clients. The following is one note from a client that says it all:

"All of the Ladies at Ready for Success, I love you!!! I came in feeling a little down and embarrassed for needing help. You treated me like I was shopping at Nordstrom’s and gave me so much help and advice. God puts angels along our path as we go through life. He put you on my path and I will never forget everything you did for me. Thank you, Rachel"
Sue also volunteers a couple times a week at Mission Outpost, a food/clothing pantry in Burnsville. Giving to others has changed her whole way of thinking and perspective on life. Her friends will tell you that when she has to miss one of her volunteer shifts due to her illness, she is set back emotionally for that week. She receives so much love and joy from both the clients and other volunteers that without it, her batteries are just not fully charged and there is a void that will not be filled until the next time she can serve.

As you gather around the table this Thanksgiving with friends and family, take inventory of your blessings and give to others.

Happy Thanksgiving!