@WhyMommy at the Community Keynote

When I think of Susan Niebur, so many thoughts come to mind. But the one that rises to the top is a quote from Gandhi.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

Oh my, how Susan changed the world.

Not just once, but many times over.

When she was a graduate student in astrophysics, she realized that women did not get the same mentoring from professors as male students. So she created her own support system. She founded the Graduate Student Peer Mentoring Program at Washington University.

Graduate students today have access to peer mentors because of Susan.

When she was a newly-minted planetary scientist in a male-dominated field, she started the Women’s Networking Breakfast at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference and founded Woman in Planetary Science. (She even won one of NASA’s highest honors for her work.)

Women in her field have a network of support because of Susan.

When she was a young mother, she started a blog about encouraging her toddler to ask “why” and all the ways she would answer him. She wrote on bedrest with her second pregnancy and shared how she mothered her toddler through that trying time.

And oh, how that little blog changed the world.

When she was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in 2007, she wrote through it all. Spreading awareness of the symptoms and creating a record for those who would one day sit in tears at their computers in the dark of night googling “I have inflammatory breast cancer.” (Her blog is the number one hit.) She taught us how to care for friends with cancer, how to fight it, and how not to.

She started the group blog, Mothers with Cancer, which has been a guidepost for women around the world who are trying to mother children and battle cancer at the same time.

She worked with the American Cancer Society. She founded a program for breast cancer patients to get free lymphedema sleeves if their insurance won’t cover them. She gave speeches that brought down the house and changed every person in the room.

At every stage, each time life threw a curveball at Susan, she not only caught it, she changed the game. She made it better for those who would come after her.

One of the pins on her Pinterest boards is a quote from Erma Bombeck (patron saint of moms who blog): “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'”

Oh, how she did. And so much more.

Her husband, Curt, said in the final post on Toddler Planet, “please choose to make a difference somewhere, anywhere, to anyone.”

All we have to do is look at Susan’s life for a guide. (She gave us that too.)

I challenge myself and all of you… don’t wait…

Be the change you want to see in the world.

(photo by Jean Winegardner)