Five and a half years ago I sat next to my dear friend Gretchen Gotthart Skeldon at hospice and said goodbye. But even as I watched her leave her earthly body, I knew this angel would continue to have an impact on countless people.
Gretchen battled breast cancer fiercely and gracefully for 16 years. From the minute she was diagnosed she became a passionate advocate for breast cancer awareness and a shrewd fundraiser for Susan G. Komen of Northwest Ohio.
Because she was only 32 when she was diagnosed, she spent a lot of time counseling other young breast cancer survivors, helping them navigate the world of treatment and support. I can’t even count how many young women I referred to Gretchen but she always took their calls with a smile in her voice, listening to them with compassion and inspiring them with encouragement and optimism.
When I first met Gretchen she was a two-time breast cancer survivor. I asked her once if she ever asked God, “Why me?” With a twinkle in her eye she said, “I don’t ever ask, ‘Why me?’ I always ask why God gave me a cancer I know I can beat!”
But Gretchen’s life was about much more than breast cancer. She was a devoted wife to Phil and a doting mother to Lily — her miracle daughter — conceived after doctors told her she couldn’t have children because of the chemotherapy treatment she’d gone through. She was a devout Catholic, and was affectionately referred to as the “Glass Princess” by her colleagues at Libbey Glass. She volunteered as a wish-granter at Make-A-Wish.
She was also an incredible friend. The joke about Gretchen was that she was always late. I’m not talking ten minutes late; her friends knew to expect her 45 minutes to an hour late for everything. If she had an appointment and someone needed her for something, she made sure that person had her undivided attention for as long as it took. We all forgave her for being late, because we knew when we needed her, she’d give us that same attention. Her motto in life was “Do all the good you can.” In life, Gretchen never missed an opportunity to make a positive impact on someone.
But an amazing thing happened when Gretchen died: Her impact continued. Her friends and family kept Gretchen’s legacy of good works alive by supporting the organizations that were so important to her and creating the Gretchen Gotthart Skeldon Fund. The signature event: A night of celebration with music and dancing at Centennial Terrace in Sylvania called, appropriately enough, “Fashionably Late.”
Each year hundreds of people attend to celebrate Gretchen and her legacy of giving. Her life continues to inspire people to raise awareness, raise money, and make a personal impact while they can — even people who didn’t know her while she was alive. To date, “Fashionably Late” has raised $120,000 for charities in our community, and the 6th annual event is scheduled for Friday, August 14. Click here for information on this year’s event: www.gretchenfund.org
I still miss my friend every day. But what Gretchen continues to teach me is that cancer can take the lives of those we love, but it cannot erase their impact. Gretchen’s legacy of giving and love made our world a better place when she was here, and continues to spread a legacy of hope for the future.
Chrys Peterson is a correspondent for ProMedica HealthConnect and spokeswoman for Friends for Life, a monthly newsletter for women that offers health and wellness advice with a focus on cancer prevention.