Komen Race for the Cure honors two womenWritten by Amy Biolchini | | ABiolchini@toledofreepress.com
After her second bout of breast cancer and extensive chemotherapy in August 2003, doctors told Gretchen Skeldon she would never be able to have children. Later that month, 41-year-old Skeldon discovered she was pregnant.
Gretchen and her husband, Philip Skeldon, welcomed their daughter Lily in April 2004. By June, Gretchen’s cancer had metastasized to her liver. She began taking targeted drugs that went after the proteins attached to the cancer cells.
“Because of all the research money, doctors have been able to invent targeted drugs,” Philip Skeldon said. “I met Gretchen about 12 years ago. I would have never had the chance to meet her, marry her and have a child with her if it were not for these targeted drugs.”
Philip, director of Christian Service at St. John’s Jesuit High School, said the targeted drugs were able to keep his wife’s cancer at bay for five years before it returned in her liver and moved to her lungs.
After complications in her lungs, which involved surgery, Gretchen developed pneumonia. She died Feb. 17 at the age of 47. She is one of two women who will be honored at the 2010 Komen Northwest Ohio Race for the Cure on Sept. 26.
“She really took the attitude of ‘I will make a difference.’ She supported women with breast cancer in the most meaningful way,” said Mary Westphal, executive director for the Northwest Ohio Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
The Komen organization chooses to honor one woman in memory and one survivor at each Race for the Cure. The women are nominated in the spring before the event and are reviewed by an independent committee. In 2003, Skeldon was celebrated as a survivor. This year, Jeri Hoellrich was chosen for this honor.
Hoellrich, principal at Anthony-Wayne High School, made the commitment to be at work every day that she didn’t have chemotherapy treatments. Each department at the high school would leave her a card or something to read on the days that she had to travel to Ann Arbor for treatment. Hoellrich said it was important to keep her life as normal as possible.
“I try to make it to as many events as possible, really for the students, for them to see me and see that I was OK,” Hoellrich said. “It’s pretty tough for everyone to know that ‘OK, I’m going up to Ann Arbor to get this needle stuck in my arm’.”
In July 2009, Hoellrich was diagnosed with breast cancer, which came at a busy time because her parents were dealing with cancer issues of their own.
“I was diagnosed about five days from my 85-year-old mother. My father had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer,” Hoellrich said. “It actually helped because I think it made us take the time to smell the roses and take care of each other through the whole process.”
Hoellrich, 50, said her parents are doing well with their treatments, and she has a positive outlook for herself. After a January surgery, she completed her radiation treatment at the end of March. She is now on a medication for the next four years to block the cause of her cancer, estrogen.
Of the 17 lymph nodes removed from her right arm, only one contained cancer cells. Hoellrich said her doctors gave her a good prognosis after the tumor that was removed was entirely cancer-free. She has been able to return to her job as principal, sometimes working 17-hour days.
She said she expects approximately 300 of her students will participate in the race. Hoellrich will lead the parade of survivors Sept. 26.