Cancer 'the only thing' that could have beat Amy Malmgren

Amy Malmgren at the very first Denver Actors Fund seed-gathering fundraiser on June 1, 2013. Photo by John Moore.

Amy Malmgren of Highlands Ranch beat Stage 4 cancer in 2014. So when doctors delivered a new and unrelated Stage 4 diagnosis less than a year later, she took on the challenge with her typical quiet and confident determination.

“I beat the highest stage of cancer in just four months,” she said at the time, “and I will beat it again.”

This would just be the newest Herculean obstacle in Malmgren’s path, and the most recent she would take on with good cheer and a ferocious faith.

“God and I are tight,” she wrote on her Facebook profile to summarize her religious views.

amy-malmgren-quoteMalmgren, one of three inaugural board members of the Denver Actors Fund, died Wednesday night. She was also founder and CEO of Loops Media and a cheerful performer in the massive annual Magic Moments music revues in Denver.  She was 41.

“Words don’t do justice to the level of human being she was,” friend Jamie Spicer Anderson wrote on her Facebook page.

Malmgren, a 1993 graduate of Arvada High School and in 2007 from Metro State University, was a single mother of three – from a wheelchair. She was paralyzed in a near-death car accident 24 years ago.

Since then, Malmgren has battled infection, illness and worked tirelessly to help overcome the public stigma of living with a disability. All while raising three young men, including two now 17-year-old twins, Dev and Dominic Elliott. Her eldest son is 25-year-old Joseph Lewton.

“Cancer is the only thing to ever beat Amy,” said Malmgren’s sister-in-law, Heather Gregg Spillman. “She was the strongest person I’ve ever known.”

In July 2014, Malmgren was diagnosed with bladder cancer. After a strict regimen of chemotherapy and radical surgery, doctors miraculously declared her cancer-free by October. But cancer returned eight months later, again as Stage 4. It metastasized from her lymph nodes and spread into her small intestines and bones.

“Life is crazy sometimes,” she said at the time. “We don’t get to choose all our paths, or I certainly wouldn’t have chosen cancer. But here I am again.”

amy-malmgren-denver-actors-fund-familyMagic Moments is an annual revue of Broadway and pop songs that provides up to 150 physically or mentally challenged actors the opportunity to perform alongside able-bodied castmates. It is performed each year in the spirit of inclusion and equality.

“My son Dom was doing Magic Moments, and he talked me into getting in,” Malmgren said. “That’s what really brought me back into the theatre. I loved it. Magic Moments is a fabulous community to stumble across.”

(Pictured right: Amy Malmgren with her sons Joseph Lewton, Dev Elliott and Dominic Elliott.)

Magic Moments Director KQ Quintana said he had been planning to design the 2017  revue around Malmgren until her cancer returned.

“She was a delight to work with because she was always prepared, and she made rehearsals go better with her positive attitude,” Quintana said. “And she was good. She could sing and act.”

Malmgren, born Feb. 8, 1975, sat on several boards, preferring to concentrate on issues that impact the health, independence and quality of life of individuals living with spinal-cord injury or disease. It was a passion for advocacy that took her from Washington D.C. to Italy.

When she attended the Denver Actors Fund’s inaugural karaoke fundraiser three years ago, she rolled right up to founder John Moore and offered her financial and accounting services. Malmgren was named Treasurer of the Board of Directors. In the three years since, the non-profit organization has raised $117,000 to help members of the local theatre community in situational medical need. In April, Denver Actors Fund President Brenda Billings died of a sudden brain aneurysm.

“You just can’t measure the toll of losing two incredible life forces like Amy and Brenda back-to-back,” said Moore. “At a time when this little non-profit was nothing more than an idea, this very small group of people stepped up to the plate and willed it into being.”

Although in Malmgren’s case, it was more like she rolled up to the plate.

“She came straight up to me and said, ‘I want in,'” Moore said. “Without that kind of can-do spirit, we never would have gotten off the ground.”

amy-malmgren-denver-actors-fund-8002Family, Spillman said, meant the world to Malmgren.

“I’ll miss performing with her and cheering our kids on together,” she wrote this morning. “I’ll miss our annual giggle-fest on Christmas night. I’ll miss going dancing with her. That was our favorite thing to do. I’ll miss our two-hour phone conversations where we’d cover everything from our kids to a TV show we both liked to politics. I’ll miss going shopping with her. I’ll miss traveling to Cabo with her. I’ll miss celebrating our birthdays together. I’ll miss preparing a family meal together. I’ll miss her being late to everything. I’ll miss putting her wheelchair in the back of my car. I’ll miss her shining example of how to be the best kind of person. I’ll miss Amy.”

(Pictured above right: Amy Malmgren, front left, appeared on ‘In Focus with Eden Lane’ (back right) on behalf of the Denver Actors Fund at the Town Hall Arts Center in 2014.)

Spillman said Malmgren was a natural at disarming some people’s discomfort with disability. “I’ll miss watching the ease she had with kids when they were curious about her chair,” she said.

Malmgren is also survived by her brothers, Jason and Mike Spillman; parents Scott Malmgren and Janet Benson; stepfather Mike Benson; stepmother Stacy Malmgren; and many aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.

“This world has lost a shining light today,” Jason Spillman wrote on his Facebook page today. “My heart is heavy but I am glad that my beloved sister Amy is out of pain. She told me a few days ago, ‘I will save you a good seat.’ “

A celebration of Malmgren’s life will be held at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 4, at First Plymouth Congregational Church, 3501 S. Colorado Blvd, Cherry Hills Village, CO, 80113. Attendees are asked to wear purple. MAP IT