My best friend and I traveled to Sri Lanka for a million different reasons that wouldn’t make much sense to anyone but us.
On our second day in country, we stumbled upon another American who happened to be along for a similar journey. We quickly forged a friendship because of common friends and an intimate familiarity with a common struggle— however it was the raw, irreverent and hell-bent tenacity of this queen like woman that blew my mind and made me fall in love with her spirit in an undeniable way.
Ann posses what I love most about people– a spirit centered life completely and totally focused on adding more love in the world. She doesn’t do small and her life has been big and messy and profound and wildly impactful.
The lives she touched, the difference she’s made won’t be measurable, ever.
She’s on her last chapter now, suffering from a fatal lung disease where her breath becomes more and more sacred with each passing day…. But her spirit is literally on fire and she’s still serving as many people as she can find, wherever they may be— I’d bet everything that she will take her last breath while in complete and total service to someone else.
She wouldn’t have it any other way.
Our unexpected friendship turned into a collaboration 10,000 miles away as we helped her craft language and an approach to fulfill her final mission—to deliver hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical equipment to 5 desperate hospitals in Sri Lanka.
We flew into her hometown for 3 literally sleepless days of around the clock collaboration to help her fulfill the mission…. It was a sacred and holy experience and what I learned from Ann I will never forget—
Her story altered the planet and me….. it’s such a beautiful expression of a noble, purpose filled life and the product of exactly what happens when you add more love and live by principles that make the world better. Her story is filled with wisdom that rivals any master I’ve ever studied and the way she navigates the world is an inspiration for all of us:
In 1945, World War 2 ended just in time for Ann Van Slyck’s arrival in the world, the product of an unabashed single German mother and an intense Italian father. She was the guest of honor at her parents’ Catholic wedding ceremony, blowing through conventional boundaries even as an toddler.
Ann followed the maxim that “if you can’t change it, accept it, and if you can’t accept it, change it.” In a Brooklyn neighborhood where tough mattered more than money, she started innovating at a young age to make her life work.
As a 7 year old girl, she’d dress her 2 year old brother up for Halloween and took him on the train with her to the better neighborhood, marching all over Brooklyn to get what she wanted; the good candy.
“I’d walk up to the men smoking on the stoop and tell them we were there to see our Aunt Helen. I figured there had to be a Helen in the building.”
Invariably, she’d be buzzed right into the upper class world, gathering wonderful treats, and charming everyone who was lucky enough to open their door.
“Fear. The journey to success is an evolution and every success brings a new circumstance. It’s ok to be afraid. Just keep moving forward.”
Ann was raised in a strict Catholic tradition where kids who did not confess their sins were forced to abstain from communion, a public invitation to parental disapproval and punishment. Creating the ultimate work around, Ann invented her own concept; confessions ahead of time. She’d confess her sins in advance, carefully monitoring her weekly quota of fibs and restraining her self from yelling at her little brother too many times. Maintaining strict compliance with her invented game, Ann Van Slyck never missed Communion.
Ann’s mom had TB at a young age, a perfect storm of inspiration for her daughter’s lifelong commitment to nursing. When her mom’s illness worsened, Ann’s family was forced to move to the drier climate of Mesa, Arizona.
Ann remembers standing in front of her new high school while she asked a fellow student where it was, mistaking the small buildings for houses. She couldn’t believe that students road horses to school.
One year after this big move with family finances stretched to the limit by her dad’s unemployment, Ann sat in the waiting room as the doctor walked out of a routine office visit with her mom. “Go get your dad.” When she asked about her mom, the doctor repeated himself. “Just go get your dad.”
Her mom’s death shoved her into the role of family caretaker, and her dad’s lack of work elevated her to breadwinner, while she was just a senior in high school.
“I was too busy to stop. I had to cook dinner, or pick up my little brother. I helped pay the bills. There wasn’t time to fall apart.”
“ Questions. Ask, ask, ask. Say I don’t know and ask. Just keep moving forward.”
Ann lied about her age at JC Penney, telling them she was 18 so she could work until ten, rather than be sent home with less money at 7pm. One day, a mean spirited customer asked her for a jock strap to try on. Ann didn’t even know the word, and was humiliated when a coworker told her the meaning. “I’m going to be an expert. I’m going to ask questions and learn my stuff so this never happens again.”
Remembering her joy at earning her girl scout nursing badge, Ann got a job as a nursing assistant at Mesa Southside Hospital. At home with herself as a caretaker, she impressed adult supervisors with her easy ways around patients.
Excelling in high school, Ann earned a scholarship to ASU where she majored in nursing and started her meteoric rise to the top of the nursing world.
“It’s an evolutionary journey. Every place you get to is new. It will always be scary to make a change. Just keep moving forward.”
In 1969, her hospital CEO told her to go to graduate school. When she hesitated, her supervisor upped the ante, standing for her bright future by threatening termination if she didn’t comply. After Mesa, with a masters degree in medical / surgical nursing, Ann took a job at Saint Lukes Medical Center in Phoenix Az, where she became the vice president of patient care services in 1976.
“The great Oak tree does not grow in the shade of the Cypress” ~ Kahil Gibran
Ann credits much of her success to her wonderful relationship with her husband Tom. In many ways, they are opposites, but they subscribe to the philosophy of spaces in togetherness. Tom and Ann make room for unconditional love and maximum service in their miraculous marriage.
“Humor. Laugh at yourself. Say, “What was I thinking?” and keep moving forward.”
In 1981, Ann quit her safe job and bought a new car. She was starting her own business at last. She told her skeptical husband, who suggested that she couldn’t afford this car, she named the car Magic. “I’ll use the magic of my mission, improving patient care, to pay for it.”
The company, Van Slyck and Associates, Inc developed a patient data base that revolutionized the way nurses could identify and treat high risk patients. Ann’s once doubtful husband eventually joined the firm, making the Van Slycks a powerful corporate duo. The company unbundled the cost of nursing care from room and board, increasing respect for nurses and individualizing care for needy patients.
“Celebrate. You matter. Hug yourself and enjoy every success. Forgive yourself for every failure. Just keep moving.”
As she built an influential and profitable company with offices in 5 states and clients in 42 states, she learned that managing the money well meant more patients could receive excellent care.
After this lifetime of service, Ann has been diagnosed with a fatal lung condition. She wants to go out like she came in, 1000% committed and full of purpose, passion and grace. Bringing her oxygen tank and her sari, she traveled to Sri Lanka, where she braved the altitude, heat and poverty for her last big purpose: Project C.U.R.E.
“We are truly blessed and highly favored as a profession, all that we do and all that we have done and what I believe has been mine to do, has been to celebrate the ability to serve patients and now I celebrate you. Never forget that the reason that we are highly favored is because we know it’s always about the patient”
“What is this precious love and laughter budding in our hearts? It is the glorious sound of a soul waking up!” ~Hafiz
“We shall not cease from exploration and the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time” ~ TS Eliot
“Tenacity. Don’t give up. Keep moving forward, even when it’s two steps back and one step forward. Every time you re-commit, you move forward towards your dreams.” ~ Ann Van Slyck
Come with her on a journey that brings Health and Hope to some of the neediest people in the world. Write me to get in touch with Ann and help her fulfill her final mission. [contact-form][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]