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Elizabeth Hope Streightif
March 5, 1945 — December 1, 2004

Betsy passed away just before midnight on December 1, 2004. She had been ill for a long time with various and worsening complications of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. She leaves behind her partner of a quarter century, Kathleen Sykora, her sister, Cynthia, and many many friends. She was a young 59 years old.

Anyone who would like to contact Kathleen may do so here:

Kathleen Sykora
202 East Frontier St., #A
Payson, AZ 85541
Cell phone: 928-710-5185 (but she may not always be able to answer it)

Kathleen and Cynthia are planning informal memorial services in Payson and Prescott Arizona and in Chicago.

Payson Memorial Service:
Sunday, 12/05/04, at the Payson Care Center at 1:15 pm.
107 East Lone Pine Drive
Payson, AZ 85541

Other people's pages about Bets:

LaVonne Ellis
MCS-Heightened Senses Network (bottom left of page has link back here)

Tributes to Betsy (after the pictures below):

Kathleen Sykora (given 12/5/04 at the Payson Care Center)
Cyndi Norwitz (posted to Immune 12/4/04)
Prescott Newspaper Obit (written by Kathleen)

In May 2001, Connie Barker and I drove from California to Texas, stopping to visit friends along the way. We were lucky enough to be able to spend a few hours with Betsy and Kathleen in Arizona. Betsy was far too ill for a longer visit and we were never able to see each other in person again.
Betsy & Kathleen
May 2001
Betsy & Kathleen
May 2001
Connie & Betsy & Cyndi
May 2001
Connie & Betsy & Cyndi
May 2001
Connie & Betsy & Cyndi
May 2001
Betsy and her sister, Cynthia
November 2001
Betsy and her niece, Rachel
November 2001
November 2001

Very old pictures Betsy sent me in 2000

Bets' Memorial Service
Given 12/5/04 at the Payson Care Center
by Kathleen Sykora

I met Betsy in the fall of 1981 in Chicago, Illinois. Little did I know that from that moment my life would change forever.

She had had an amazing life before we met. She told me that she never talked (say what was on her mind) until she was in her 30Õs and then she met a group of women who were active in the Chicago womenÕs movement and through their friendship and support, she blossomed. After that , she talked up a storm. And what she said was funny, interesting, brilliant. She loved women. She cared deeply for what women were going through all throughout the world. She became active in the womenÕs movement in Chicago, and was a founding member of the Chicago WomenÕs Health Clinic which is still in business to this day.

We discovered that we had so much in common when we met and before we knew it we were best friends, more than best friends. She was my companion, my confidant, my counsel.

We ended up becoming roommates and supporting each otherÕs dreams and goals. She wanted to be a couples and family therapist and I wanted to be an actress. And, we both actually had our dreams come true. She became the best therapist anyone in Chicago could ever hope for, and I was an actress in Chicago.

But, life had other plans for us. Betsy was chemically poisoned in the summer of 1983. From then on, our lives took a drastic turn to a journey that no person could imagine. That first poisoning set Betsy up for being vulnerable to all sorts of chemicals, pesticides, solvents, herbicides. Though it was a gradual process, she eventually could no longer go to friends houses, go to stores, go to school. She wasn't able to finish graduate school, one her great regrets.

The key to getting better from chemical poisoning is to avoid the chemicals that make you sick. So, that was our goal and lifeÉ searching for a safe place to live and doctors that could treat her. We were never successful. This disease took her life away, but it didn't take away her personality, her perseverance, her incredible will to live, her love for those she cared so deeply, her sense of humor. For 20 years, she battled to stay alive, to find reasons to keep going. For 20 years, I stayed by her side, traveling with her on this bizarre and terrible journey. I know I didn't have to, I could walk away and let her fight the daily battles alone. But, she was a tremendous force, someone who absolutely deserved to be loved, cared for and receive devotion, and not be abandoned, no matter how hard or rocky the road. And, believe you me, it was very rocky most of the time. And, I wanted to be there for her in any and every way that I could.

The last two years were the hardest on Betsy. She started to become weaker and weaker, and doctors weren't finding anything that they could hang their hat on. They were frustrated, gave up, didn't believe. Then, she suffered a perforated colon which didn't get caught for 2-3 days. So, even though the surgeon on call did a fantastic job, she suffered infections afterwards that never went away. She was never able to build up enough strength to walk or sit up for long. She was in and out of the hospital until she found her way here, to the Payson Care Center.

And, thank God, that she came here. For the first time, she was in a safe place, an environmentally safer place than any other place she had ever been. Her old self came back. She was happier than I had ever seen her. She was so motivated and willing to work hard, do what ever it took to be able walk again. She believed she would get better. She had hope. You know her middle name was Hope. But, her colon perforated again, and surgery was necessary. But, though the surgeon was brilliant, and took away the infection and rebuilt her colon, she was never the same. But, her personality and will to live shone through. She fought and fought, never gave up until last Monday night when life took yet another turn and she suffered a stroke that left her unresponsive.

The most remarkable moment was when she wanted to have Xmas early. She must have had a feeling that she may not make to XmasÉ so I wasn't going to argue, Xmas it was the week before Thanksgiving. So, I decorated her bed with Xmas lights, sleigh bells and she wanted everyone who cared for her to have a grab bag "junk" gift. She would say, "I wonÕt take my medicine unless you take a grab bag gift". ItÕs just junk, you can do whatever you want with it.

She was like that. She loved to give things to people. She loved people. She was so social. I swear, if she had been able to sit up, she would have been in that wheelchair, wheeling all around the center, saying hi to each residentÉ making fast friends.

The day I went to get the Xmas decorations at Walmart, I called her up on the cell phone, and she and I shopped for 30 minutes.. and had the best time. She got to pick out the sleigh bells that sounded the best. And, when I got back, I showed her everything and she just loved it all. And, she told me that "IÕve had a wonderful day!" Just a wonderful day!. And, I couldn't believe that this woman, who couldn't move anything, not even her head, was saying that she had had a wonderful day. That was who she wasÉ and that is what Payson Care Center gave her. You gave her a home, a doctor who cared, staff who fell in love with her, supported her, cared for her so gently and carefully and with such kindness and warmth. I will always be grateful for all that everyone did for her.

She was a unique and special human being. She touched so many lives in her own short life. She touched mine in ways that I can't even begin to say. SheÕll be missed by her family, her friends.

But, even though I will miss her more than IÕll ever know, I also have to have faith that she is no longer suffering in pain. That she is flying high, running free and soaring with the wind. I love you, Bets forever and two days.

Remembering Bets
By Cyndi Norman

Date: 4 Dec 2004 20:44:11 -0000
From: Cyndi Norman cyndi@tikvah.com
To: immune@immuneweb.org
Subject: Remembering Bets

Looking back in my files, I seem to have "met" Betsy at the end of 1996, from one of the now defunct versions of MCS-CI. We exchanged some private emails, letters that became more personal in 1997, which is when I can say we became friends. Betsy joined Immune in 1998 to post, and she started receiving posts and being active in 1999.

October 1998 is the first letter I have talking about how Bets went from a "regular" MCSer (having the usual trouble with exposures and such) to one so ill that she couldn't function in any reasonable way. The letter, posted to MCS-CI, is from Kathleen, saying how:

Bets has deteriorated dramatically over the past 6 months...Bets has physically gotten to the point where she is completely crippled with FM, can hardly walk, sleeps on the floor because she cannot tolerate a bed, but, can't get up and down because she is in so much muscle and joint pain that she cries out each time she moves. She is nauseous all of the time, she experiences neurological symptoms constantly. She says she cannot believe that a body can be this sick and still be alive.

She cannot tolerate anything that could help her, and I mean anything. She was recently skin-tested for Vitamin C and got such a horrible reaction that the nerves in her arm where the injection was got inflamed and she was in excruciating pain for a week after. She can't go on like this anymore. She is in too much pain, with no hope of anything getting better.

All the exposures of Chicago finally caught up with her. She later discusses the various medical care she got, some good, some not so good. And this seems to be when she started prednisone (though not regularly yet), a treatment that ultimately destroyed her bones and worsened her condition.

From this time forward, Betsy's health deteriorated. At the end of 1999, she and Kathleen left Chicago and started their many moves to seek medical help for Bets. Dallas, Barrington IL, Chicago again, then Arizona.

In 2001, her abdominal pain got serious and she was worried she had pancreatic cancer, a 100% fatal cancer that killed other members of her family. She went through innumerable tests, long drives to the specialist doctors, and many complications.

May 2001, Connie Barker and I drove from Northern California to Austin Texas for a conference. We visited friends along the way and were blessed to be able to visit with Bets and Kathleen. Unfortunately, Bets was way too sick to let us stay overnight, even in the car, but we were able to stay for a few hours. Even back then, she was very ill and barely able to get out of bed. Seeing her was wonderful though. Her personality came through strongly, even with a body that didn't quite work.

I begged her to move out my way where jobs were plentiful and medical care for people on Medicaid was pretty good. She and Kathleen were planning on doing so, and on joining an MCS community that Mikel and I and others were trying to start (by finding a property with several homes on it, something that never worked out). But then in Nov. 2001, one of the many tests Bets had showed a pancreatic mass that the doctors said was cancer. Bets was ready to give up at this point but finally agreed to have a followup test. That test, which came back a week or two after the diagnosis, showed it was a mass but not cancer. I still hoped they would move here, and they thought about it for a long time, but Bets was too sick to consider moving.

Staying in rural Arizona sealed her fate. The medical care was abominable. The way her doctors treated her (by ignoring her problems, dropping her from their care, and not taking her symptoms seriously once they found out she didn't have cancer) was beyond horrific. The care she got was so bad it should be malpractice. She had chronic pancreatisis and could barely digest food, yet the doctors refused to recognize it for years, and even then they only treated it briefly then went back to ignoring it. She was very ill in 2001 but she was, in my opinion, savable.

It wasn't until Feb 2003 that doctors started taking her condition seriously. She had such bad pain that she went to the ER where they found she had a perforated bowel. She had immediate surgery and barely survived. She had several more surgeries and interventions from this point forward to deal with this. This is when the doctors "discovered" the pancreatisis and treated it with TPN. But that didn't last.

It's hard to believe it took a year and a half but this was the beginning of the end. Bets went in and out of the hospital, in and out of nursing homes, and became more bedridden and less functional than ever. Kathleen spent all her time caring for her, and the hope that something might save Betsy became less and less.

A few months ago it became clear that Kathleen could no longer care for Betsy at home and she entered the Payson Care Center, where she died. Since it was several hours from their home, Kathleen moved too. This was the only place they could find that had decent air quality, took Medicaid, and was willing and able to at least minimally accommodate Betsy's MCS.

Despite good staff and, finally, some decent doctors, it was too little, too late. The high doses of predisone led to spinal fractures nearly every time Betsy moved or was moved. She was barely able to eat. She was chronically malnourished due to this. And her body was shutting down. Her last two weeks, she didn't eat, she barely drank, and she didn't move or allow anyone to move her, even to change the bedding. A heart attack led to a stroke which put her in a coma and she died a couple days later. Peaceful and free from pain for the first time in years.

I do not believe her death was "for the best" because she never should have gotten this sick. There were so many opportunities for doctors to do the right thing and heal her. If she and Kathleen had more money, Bets could have had the alternative care she needed so desperately. Or if Medicaid would pay for such things. As it was, they didn't even pay for half the standard Western medical treatments Betsy needed and never got.

I miss Betsy a lot. Back when she was well enough, we'd gab on the phone for hours. She listened to me bitch endlessly about my committment-phobic partner, and she offered wonderful advice (Betsy was a therapist before she became ill). I am so glad she stuck around long enough to hear the outcome: my engagement and then pregnancy. We talked about all sorts of things. I learned about her life, and she about mine. We shared so much. Even though we only met in person that one time, it feels like we saw each other constantly.

Her medical state was so bad that I know she was ready to move on. But that doesn't mean those of us left behind are ready to be without her. She's still around, though not in body, but it just isn't the same. I am glad she's not in pain any more and that she's no longer limited by her body. But I miss her.


by Kathleen Sykora

Elizabeth (Betsy) Hope Streightif lost the fight on December 2, 2004. She was a young 59 years old. She was living in Payson, Arizona residing at the Payson Care Center. She passed away from a stroke due to complications resulting from years of numerous chemical exposures. But, she will always be remembered as embracing life, having the best sense of humor and having a fierce love for those she cared about.

She was born on March 5, 1945 to the parents of Clifford and Winifred Streightif, and was raised in Dalton, Illinois. At age 23, she was stricken with Mˇni¸res syndrome that left her disabled for the reminder of her life. In her late 20's she moved to Chicago and became active in the women's health movement in the early 70's. She was a founding member of the Chicago Women's Health Center, one of the first in the country, which is still in existence. She graduated with honors from Northeastern University in Chicago in family and community counseling in the mid 80's, and did her graduate course work. But, illness prevented her from actually obtaining her master's degree. She built a small private practice as a client-centered therapist and did brilliant work in spite of her illness, but in the late 90's had to give up practicing due to her ill health.

In 1984, Betsy was exposed to a chemical solvent from fiberglass that ultimately set her up to be vulnerable to many chemicals, pesticides, solvents, etc. She spent the next 20 years battling multiple chemical sensitivities that left her continuously homeless, searching for safe housing and medical treatment to get better. Her searching led her to Arizona twice, the second time actually making it her home in the Prescott/Chino Valley area from 2001 until her health forced her to be placed in a nursing facility in Payson in August of this year.

She is survived by her companion of over 23 years, Kathleen Sykora, sister, Cynthia Kelsheimer, nieces and nephews and many friends who adored her. She will be deeply missed.

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Cyndi Norwitz / webmaster@immuneweb.org / Last Modified: 12/17/04