1 of 4
Photo by Erica Techo.
The Anderson family presents a check to Children’s of Alabama.
2 of 4
Courtesy of Matt Anderson
The Anderson Family - Mylee, Matt, Gretchen and Sophie.
3 of 4
Courtesy of Matt Anderson
4 of 4
Courtesy of Matt Anderson
The Anderson family - Gretchen, Sophie, Mylee and Matt.
The Ross Bridge neighborhood is lined with ribbons. They’re pearl, in honor of Gretchen Anderson.
“I looked up what ‘Gretchen’ meant, and it means pearl,” said Jessica Rosner, one of Gretchen’s neighbors. “And then I just started thinking of what I could do with that.”
Gretchen was diagnosed with brain cancer in May 2013, fought through treatment and was in the clear until April.
“After it came back, of course we were all kind of devastated because she beat it the first time and was doing really well,” Rosner said. “She went in for a routine scan and they saw something and did another scan and found out it came back.”
During the two years after her diagnosis, Gretchen was able to maintain a great quality of life. Her husband Matt said she enjoyed getting involved in several charities and fundraisers for adult and pediatric brain cancer.
Matt said Gretchen knew there was a chance for the cancer to return, but many of their conversations revolved around how others had to deal with cancer.
“What Gretchen and I would always talk about is as terrible as it is, the only way it could ever be worse is if it’s your kids,” Matt said.
While they were living in Atlanta, Matt and Gretchen knew a dentist whose daughter died after a five-year battle with cancer. She was 7 years old. A close friend, Sasha Ramini, is also a nurse practitioner at Children’s of Alabama. With two daughters, 6-year-old Mylee and 4-year-old Sophie, Matt said the difficulties a family faces as their child is affected by cancer hit home.
When Gretchen’s cancer returned, Rosner made ribbons to help raise money for the family. Their neighborhood was lined with bows, and more were added to the neighborhood’s entrances so the family would feel surrounded by support, Rosner said. Gretchen’s mom told Rosner the visual reminder of Gretchen was a nice addition.
“She loved that she could look out and see the ribbons,” Rosner said. “And without us having to always tell her, she could just see Gretchen everywhere.”
Support exploded, and while she knows they made at least 300 bows, Rosner lost track of the exact number along the way. They raised $4,100 for the family.
“I wanted him [Matt] to do whatever he felt he wanted and what Gretchen would have wanted,” Rosner said.
Matt decided to use the money to give back to the community. He chose to donate $5,000 to Children’s of Alabama to reflect Gretchen’s passion for helping with charities for children’s cancer research.
“She just really enjoyed getting involved in fundraisers on both the adult and pediatric side, but the reason we decided to give the money to the pediatrics side is because probably that was what she was most passionate about,” Matt said.
Matt and his daughters, Sophie and Mylee, presented Children’s with a $5,000 check on Aug. 13, two days before Gretchen’s birthday. His daughters might not understand the money aspect of the donation yet, but Matt said he hopes his family can continue to give back to cancer research.
“With my girls, one thing I want to do is kind of get them involved in a lot of the local charities,” Matt said. “So this was a way to kind of kick it off.”
Gretchen’s giving nature was one reason Ross Bridge neighbors rallied around the Anderson family, Rosner said. The bows were one way to see the support, and her memorial service was another. At Gretchen’s memorial service on July 11, Cross Creek Church Pastor Chris Peters said the crowd was a visual reminder of a community’s support.
“It was definitely one of the most well-attended funerals or memorial services I have been to,” Peters said.
The crowd of around 400 took part in remembering and celebrating Gretchen’s life, Rosner said. The service was special because while attendees were sad, they were able to reflect on their positive memories as well. Some attendees wore pearls in her honor, and the personal touches of the memorial helped bring Gretchen’s presence in to the room.
“She worked in the dental field, so they had a basket for all of the people that were there to take a toothbrush home and hand sanitizer – it was just so personal – and a box to write down your favorite memory so Matt and the girls could read it later,” Rosner said.
“She was just a person who was a good friend to people, and I think she touched a lot of lives in kind of an individual way,” Peters said.
Gretchen’s death hit home for a lot of the families in Ross Bridge, Rosner said. She was a young mother, and the death was unexpected.
“You’re supposed to die when you’re older, but this is a hard one because it’s one of us – she was 33, almost 34,” Rosner said. “So it was like one of us. It touched so close to all of the moms’ hearts because we have kids.”
Matt said he hopes Gretchen’s story not only encourages support for cancer research but help bring attention to the cause.
“Brain cancer’s not really something that gives a lot of recognition,” Matt said. “[Cancers] are all terrible, but this one is particularly really bad and it just doesn’t get that much recognition, so it will be nice to put that out there.”
Ways to give back to brain cancer research
Blazer Bolt 5K
- Oct. 24, 8 a.m.
- 18th Street South
Lucy and Ruby’s Brainy Day
- May 7, 2016
- Donations accepted
Wheeling for Hope
- Ongoing events