Katherine Bensen, the daughter of former Eighth District U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, died Tuesday after a five-year battle with lung cancer, for which she became a national advocate who was a proponent of early screenings and championed its survivors, sufferers and their families on Capitol Hill. She was 46 years told.
Bensen was diagnosed with incurable, Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer in December 2014. A nonsmoker, she helped draft Katherine’s Lung Cancer Early Detection Act of 2020 (H.R. 7123), which was read into Congress on June 8 and would expand early screening for lung cancer in an effort to save more lives from the disease.
In a statement on her Caring Bridge page, the family wrote that “Her brave, kind, and giving spirit will carry forward through her many loyal and supportive friends and family.”
Bensen died at her home in Roseville, Minn. She was married with four children. According to the family, she donated her body to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester “to continue her fight for better screening, diagnosis, treatment, and ultimately a cure for lung cancer.”
Nolan, a DFLer from Crosby, first shared the news of his daughter’s diagnosis after winning reelection in the Eighth District in 2014, missing his swearing-in ceremony in January 2015 to be with Bensen. He retired from politics in 2018 after six terms in Congress, citing his own health reasons.
“The good news is that she is remarkably strong and determined to win this fight, and of course our entire family will support her every step of the way,” Nolan said in 2015.
Targeted therapy at the Mayo Clinic extended her life beyond the 10-12 months she was given to live, according to the Duluth News Tribune in 2017.
On July 15, 2020, Katherine wrote on Caring Bridge that an aggressive mutation had formed and that she decided to stop treatment to begin home hospice care.
“I would never have imagined how full my life would become with so much love and support from so many wonderful people,” she wrote of her initial diagnosis. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. All of your prayers, love, strength and positive vibes have kept me going for over five and a half years, and they will continue to get me through this next phase.”
On the page Tuesday, her family described a contagious personality whose family and home were her biggest passions and a “hub” for the Roseville community.
“Her kitchen feeds the masses and her couches are always full,” they wrote. “John and Katherine love their children fiercely, and their children love them right back.”
Her bill, Katherine's Lung Cancer Early Detection Act of 2020, is still pending in the U.S. House before it goes to the Senate and ultimately the president’s desk.
U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Penn., is the lead sponsor of the legislation, with co-sponsorships from U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Calif. and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J.
Condolences to the Nolan family came in Tuesday from former colleagues, current lawmakers and others who worked with the congressman and Bensen.
In a statement, current Eighth District U.S. Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown, said: “I am absolutely heartbroken to hear about the passing of Rick Nolan’s beloved daughter, Katherine. She fought a brave fight against cancer, inspiring so many with her positivity and determination. We must eradicate the terrible disease that claimed her life, and I pledge to do everything in my power to secure additional funding for research on lung cancer and other types of cancers. I spoke with Rick earlier today to convey my condolences, and I will continue to pray for him and his entire family during this incredibly difficult time.”
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said on Twitter: “Katherine’s advocacy for people with cancer inspired hope and changed lives. Thinking of my former colleague and the Nolan family today — there are few things more difficult than the death of a family member.”
Jordan Metsa, former press secretary for Nolan, said: “It breaks my heart to hear of the Nolan family’s loss. Katherine was truly a beautiful, kind, and compassionate person and an inspiration to many of us who had the opportunity to work with her. She was the type of person that lit up a room the second she walked in and she was a selfless fighter who, up until her last breath, fought to give people hope in their most desperate moments. Although Katherine’s time with us has come to an end, her strong spirit lives on through her courageous work, caring friends, and loving family and her memory serves as a beacon of hope and an example of the selflessness we need to win the war on cancer.”