Suicide, Cancer, and Community

At the end of the day yesterday I gave a talk at the opening of Galvanize Boulder. After, during the Q&A, someone brought up depression and I went on a long ramble about my own struggles over the years, how I’ve grown and developed, how it has impacted me, and what I do today to work on my mental fitness. During another ramble on introvert / extrovert, I told the crowd I was exhausted from the past few weeks and rather than stick around and mingle, I was going to head home to spend a quiet evening with Amy immediately after my session because I needed to recharge.

I got home by 6:30 to a nice bowl of rice and beans that Amy had made. We ate and caught up on the day. While we were talking, she said “Francie Anhut died.” I sat for a moment. I knew Francie had cancer. I didn’t have any words. Francie was one of the first people I met when I moved to Boulder and our paths had crossed many times. We weren’t super close, but we were supportive of many things Francie did and I was always happy whenever we saw each other.

Amy then mentioned two other Boulder people we both knew who had died in the past month of cancer. More silence. We talked about a close friend of Amy’s who is in remission from a major cancer and is doing amazingly well. We talked about how fragile life is and how happy we are to be alive and with each other.

We then filled out our ballots and voted. We mail in our votes in Boulder so we sat for about thirty minutes, went through each issue and person, and voted deliberately. By 8:00, we were both totally exhausted.

“Do you want to read, watch TV, or catch up on email?” I asked.

“I want to go to sleep.”

“Ok – let’s just do a quick scan of email and call it a night.”

As we were sitting in our library in front of our computers, we each half heartedly scanned through our email. This email was marked 7:22pm so it arrived around the time we were working on our ballots and was titled “Another recent suicide & sabbatical.”

“Was thinking about your sabbatical
Today as I am just now coming out of a fog post Denver Startup Week and GAN Rally. I’m realizing the impact and exhaustion I feel this time of the year, after those events. The sabbatical is something I see in this moment as a great idea to integrate in the future post Denver startup week.

Hate to keep sending you this news, but I know you’re someone taking action on mental health and entrepreneurship.

I just heard of a husband and wife team who took their lives next week. He was an integral part of the entrepreneurial community here in Colorado.

From Greg Barry: local in Boulder. I am in total shock. A friend and business partner, Kevin Johansen, along with his wife, Karen, took his life last week. I still can’t believe it’s true, even though his son and sister have posted about it online. I’ve known Kevin for 20 years, and we spoke every 3-6 months, if not every day, when we were working together.”

It was longer so I finished reading it. I started silently crying. I turned to Amy and said “I don’t think you know him, but Kevin Johansen and his wife Karen committed suicide recently. He was an entrepreneur in town.”

Amy’s whole being slumped in her chair. I could see her deflate. I realized that I had no capacity to process this given how tired I was, the conversation we had throughout the evening, the act of voting in what is easily the most angry, hostile, and disturbing election cycle I’ve experienced, and the notion that I was still absorbing that Francie and two other people I knew had died.

I don’t really remember getting in bed. I mechanically brushed my teeth but I think that was it. When I woke up this morning, the first thing I thought of was Kevin Johansen.

His family is doing a Johansen Memoriam Fund via GoFundMe to support funeral expenses. I just went and made a gift as a contribution from the Boulder startup community. If you’ve benefit from the local startup community, which Kevin and Karen gave so much of themselves to, please make any size contribution.

Most importantly, spend at least a minute today taking a deep breath and realizing life is fragile and precious.


Also published on Medium.

  • Kristin R Darga

    The impact our words have are fierce. Thank you for posting the email (typos and all) https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/520a7e71b030924044488ec1095f8a257cb5e75b98813fbf178120c28f09ac09.png and more importantly the words in your response here.

    I was sitting in yet another mental health meetup with AJ Cohen when I received the news and it rocked both of us. I don’t remember much of what was said after I read the post by Greg. Absolutely heartbreaking and still wondering what can be done.

    Thank you for being a leader in self care for entrepreneurs. It’s what I focus on for a living and yet being human, being an entrepreneur and doing what is needed and expected of me can absolutely get in the way if we aren’t careful.

    Sending you love.

  • Kristin R Darga

    The impact our words have are fierce. Thank you for posting the email and more importantly the words in your response here. I can see by my typos that I was in shock.

    I was sitting in yet another mental health meetup with AJ Cohen when I received the news and it rocked both of us. I don’t remember much of what was said after I read the post by Greg. Absolutely heartbreaking and still wondering what can be done.

    Thank you for being a leader in self care for entrepreneurs. It’s what I focus on for a living and yet being human, being an entrepreneur and doing what is needed and expected of me can absolutely get in the way if we aren’t careful.

    Sending you love.

  • I’ll do it this afternoon when I’m on the campus looking at the beautiful Flatirons. Breathe in. Breathe out.

    • My goodness, what a stunning warm fall day in Boulder today

      • And the Cubs are in the World Series……there is hope.

  • Jono Shuster

    Brad, thank you for honoring Kevin and Karen. Two good people.

  • Ari Clark

    I am the student who posed the question about mental illness during the Q&A at Galvanize Boulder. Thank you for answering so honestly and thoughtfully, and for writing this post. Your words are of great value to this community.

  • Have had lots of people I know make that choice. Sad. Oh, and cancer sucks. The good news is they are making progress against it. Someday, they’ll have it figured out.

  • Orlando Mac

    Business is just one side of our interaction as humans…this blog is a constant reminder of the other sides we must be aware of: relationships, soul nurturing, family…

    Thanks Brad for this profound reflection: although it is a tough one to process, it is still a much needed wake up call.

  • A J Cohen

    As Kristen Darga indicated below, we were both @ a suicide awareness presentation by Sally Spencer-Thomas in Boulder that Wed night, when we received the news. The universal dynamic – call it the time & place of fate’s convergence – of that news, at that moment…completely set me off balance & focus. However, I am now more resolute on my own and the community resource service mission behind the CO Entrepreneurs Mental Health Network. A mid summer discussion w/Brad was the main impetus for launching it. Thank You! again for that focus. Its free, its 24/7, ANYone can text or call to get masters level counselors to address any behavioral challenge you are experiencing. And they do not care how you found their #. Let’s all continue to collaborate mindfully across our global community.

  • Bill Douglas

    Brad, well said about Kevin and his positive impact on so many. You and I have been involved with mental health initiatives in our local entrepreneurial communities, and here another close friend takes his own life. I, too, didn’t process it immediately but days later still struggle with the guilt, anger and sorrow that suicide leaves. As you said, life is fragile and precious. Life is a Gift. Let’s all spend time each day lifting someone else. ~bill

  • My condolences Brad, and to everyone in the Boulder area affected for those losses. Life really is fragile and we all need to put in more effort to live our lives to the fullest while we still can. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Thank you for this post, Brad. Life on this (clearly pre-beta) earth server can be a grok of such utter beauty and profundity yet the cruelty with which it often ends is singular and horrible. On a related note especially with Giving Tuesday coming up on Nov 29, I encourage your readers to take a look at some of the smaller cancer non-profits out there who need funding (for instance The EHE Foundation, which researches a very rare type of tumor).

  • Kevin had been generously working with us over the past few months (up until 2 weeks ago), deeply focused on helping ramp up my software company’s sales team and excited about our future, hopefully including him at a mentoring level. After the first time we met, he talked non-stop for 2 hours. I had to go home, get into a bath, and isolate myself from all sound for 2 hours. I was in information overwhelm and yet fascinated with all that he talked about. He filled that talk space with stories of his heritage, his businesses, the loss of his first wife to breast cancer, his struggles, successes, love of the outdoors and his new wife, and of course his indescribable knowledge and complete recall of all things marketing, sales, and strategy in startups.

    My heart goes out to his family and to Kevin and his wife’s souls. No one can know the deep pain they must have struggled with for a long time. And no one that he interacted with in my world had any clue of depression or a disinterest in the future which he talked often about. A big loud warning siren to those who feel that life seems too hard to live with anymore – I have been there too at times and found ways that permanently changed how I live life now. Grateful every day.

    Brad, I also have had too many friends, coworkers, and family (18 to date) that have passed in the last 3 years, a funeral almost every other month. It has been deeply confusing, heart wrenching, and a wake up call to the fragility of life, the trickery of time, and complexity of the human condition. Big hug to you and all who struggle to find peace.

  • Tracy De Cicco

    Beautiful Brad, thoughtful and so very true. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  • Kevin Johansen

    Thank you for your thoughts Brad.
    (From Peter Adams)
    I couldn’t believe it when I heard about Kevin and Karen. I had just gotten the umteenth email outlining the next iteration of the Business Catapult a few weeks earlier, so it came as a shock that Kevin had given up when everything was so positive.
    Kevin was so helpful to me when I took over as Executive Director of Rockies Venture Club. He knew everyone and freely shared his connections. I put 24,000 miles on my car that year meeting with everyone on Kevin’s list.

    Kevin Johansen made a huge impact on the community and on the Rockies Venture Club. He founded the now ten year old Angel Capital Summit and has been a mentor and aide to many.

    Rockies Venture Club will be honoring Kevin’s life with the Kevin Johansen Business Catapult award – awarded to individuals who make extraordinary contributions to entrepreneurs through mentorship.

    Please join us at the Colorado Capital Conference Tuesday, November 15th at 5:30-7:30 to honor Kevin at the RVC awards ceremony. More info at http://www.coloradocapitalconference.org
    Contact me for a complimentary pass.

    Note – I’m logged in here intentionally as Kevin using the @angelcapital twitter handle that he provided to me that still has his photo and name attached..

    Peter Adams