Lifelong American Cancer Society Volunteer Makes a Difference in Minnesota and Beyond

Ann Deshler’s lifetime of service.

Sometimes you choose service, and sometimes service chooses you. Ann Deshler of Edina knows both sides of this story. She’s been an oncology nurse her entire career, currently working in cancer research for HealthPartners. She decided to become a nurse as a teen when her grandmother died of bladder cancer six months after being diagnosed with the disease. Deshler’s choice of oncology as a nursing specialty may be related to her grandmother, or it may be related to a scholarship from the American Cancer Society (ACS) for which she wrote a winning essay while still in nursing school. In any case, Deshler graduated in 1979 and was married the same year. She and her husband, Kevin, live in the Edina home his parents built in 1960. “There were fields in Edina back then,” says Deshler. Edina has been her home for 30 years; Kevin has spent his whole life here.

After accepting the scholarship to complete nursing school, Deshler began a lifelong relationship with both oncology nursing and volunteer work for ACS. Her earliest volunteer involvement was on the education side, she says. “I was regularly attending ACS meetings, and was an education committee member. A guest speaker we had at one meeting was a whistle-blower in the tobacco industry.” The Minnesota lawsuit against tobacco companies opened up a lot of documents, she recalls. This was in the 1980s, before statewide smoke-free policies were in place in Minnesota, a state that led the smoke-free movement. “It was the first time I was passionate about advocacy,” says Deshler. ACS was finding its way toward advocacy, too. In 2001 it established a dedicated advocacy branch, the Cancer Action Network (CAN). ACS CAN is nonprofit, nonpartisan and supports research and laws designed to eliminate cancer as a major health problem.

Deshler continued to volunteer with ASC CAN, culminating in her role as lead cancer advocacy volunteer for the 3rd Congressional District for the past several years. Her team of volunteers was awarded the top advocacy team in the country in 2013. Deshler’s accomplishments include educating Minnesota legislators on Minnesota Day, which is scheduled this year for March 28 at the Capitol in St. Paul. Volunteers spread the word to lawmakers about specific cancer advocacy topics CAN has chosen for 2017; these include palliative care and removing barriers for colorectal screening. Any community member wishing to join Deshler’s advocacy team can meet at the lobby of the Minnesota History Center at 8 a.m.. “We will provide you with information about what is going to be discussed that day at the Capitol,” says Deshler. “We’ll break into small groups by legislative district.” The idea, says Deshler, is to bring together legislators and their constituents over topics of cancer advocacy. “You don’t need to have any experience with it,” says Deshler. “You can even just come and observe the process.”

As a cancer advocate, Deshler has also had the opportunity to participate in the ACS CAN National Leadership Summit and Lobby Day in Washington, D.C. “It’s similar to the Minnesota Day here,” she says. “We spend a day going over the issues and schedule visits with our federal lawmakers.” One aspect of the D.C. experience is called the Lights of Hope ceremony. Luminaries are assembled in honor of cancer patients, survivors and loved ones lost. In September 2016, 22,000 luminary bags were placed around the Reflecting Pool in front of the U.S. Capitol. There is an entire program, including bagpipe music, associated with the lights. “It’s a very touching ceremony,” says Deshler, and clearly one of the highlights of this devoted Edina volunteer’s lifetime of service.