In memoriam: Margaret Jane Swendson

mjs_polaroid .png

Margaret Jane (Peggy) Swendsen
Stanwood Women's Clinic 
1948 - 2018

Today is Memorial Day, a date established by the Federal government for remembering and honoring people who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. 

I also take this day to honor loved ones who fought their own battles against inequality and injustice. This year, I share with you Margaret Jane Swendsen. 

Peggy was a nurse practitioner, CEO and founder of the Stanwood Women’s Clinic. For decades, she served on the front lines of the war on women, advocating for what’s best for women rather than insurance companies or the health care industrial complex. 

She was not an impeccable CEO. She had a sliding scale for patient fees. She despised paperwork. She never wrote a business model or conducted market research to segment her audience. Cash flow was always an issue. She was not running a growth company and had zero plans to scale. Patients acquired Peggy, not the other way around. 

What she did was serve women of all ages, shapes, colors and class with respect and dignity. As one of the few nurse practitioner's to serve the immigrant community of Skagit Valley, she was a model for diversity and inclusion.

A visit to the Vaginal Vault Clinic, a.k.a. Stanwood Women's Clinic, always exceeded 15 minutes. Sometimes you’d be there for 2 hours. You’d leave with a healthful recipe, a referral for an energy healer, a reminder to take your Vitamin D, and a new perspective on whatever knot occupied your psyche. 

Peggy introduced me to yoga, taught me how to make mayonnaise from scratch, and anointed me with my favorite nickname — Britt Strongbird. She also got me off the pill to treat chronic migraines, fitted my first diaphragm and saved my life.

Peggy diagnosed my advanced cervical dysplasia, which led to a partial removal of my cervix to nip the cancer. At that time, I didn’t have health insurance. I had no symptoms, so no need to go to the doctor. Cervical cancer is a slow, quiet killer that can be hard to detect without an expensive ThinPrep Pap Test. At my annual exam, Peggy insisted that I be tested with the ThinPrep, and then charged me her wholesale rate. I was not a lucrative patient for the Stanwood Women's Clinic. Few were.

Peggy died in 2018 of cancer, which originated in her ovaries. How ironic. Hundreds of women attended her memorial service. 

As the war on women's health intensifies, do not forget that our bodies are big business. As long as our white, conservative power structure works to deny or subvert our right to control our bodies, we are under siege. 

Thank you for your service, Margaret Jane. 

Who is your Peggy?