Photo courtesy of Amanda Knerr.
Go grey for Gretchen
Matt and Gretchen Anderson with their daughters, Sophie, 3, and Mylee, 5. As Gretchen heals, she is staying active in ministry at Cross Creek Church.
Busily juggling her responsibilities as a part-time dental hygienist and a mom to daughters Mylee, 5, and Sophia, 3, Gretchen Anderson hardly had time to give much thought to the rather persistent headache that started last May.
After enduring it for three days, her husband of seven years, Matt, drove Gretchen to Hoover Urgent Care. By that time, Gretchen had lost total vision in her left eye. After failing an eye exam and with the headache showing no signs of letting up, Gretchen was sent directly to Brookwood Hospital.
Within the first 24 hours, a neurologist was at her bedside, telling Gretchen an MRI had revealed a lesion on her brain the size of a tennis ball. Twenty-four hours later, she was recovering from a craniotomy. She was 31 years old at the time.
Biopsy results confirmed Gretchen’s diagnosis as stage 3 oligoastrocytoma.
During the 12 weeks that followed, while Gretchen endured six weeks of radiation five days each week, and another six weeks of chemo, her neighbors at Ross Bridge sprang into action.
The Andersons have lived in the Chalybe section of the neighborhood since 2009, when Matt’s job with Atlanta Dental transferred them there from Georgia. And while they settled with ease into their new neighborhood, known for its high concentration of young families and its friendly sense of community, Gretchen said it wasn’t until the first few days of her diagnosis that they realized just how rare a community they’d found.
“I couldn’t drive for 12 weeks, nor could I stay alone,” she said. “The neighborhood absolutely outdid themselves. Every time someone would go to check the mail, they would find a care package at our front door.”
Meals are a common method of neighborhood ministry in the Deep South, and for 90 days, the Andersons found their refrigerator fully stocked from the generosity of fellow residents.
But for Gretchen, the most awe-inspiring gesture took shape in July, when her diagnosis was no longer “new” news and the care regimen had become a part of the family’s new normal.
That’s when the phone rang.
On the other end was Ross Bridge resident Kate Rudemiller. She told Gretchen the neighborhood’s annual 8K and Health Expo that September, a race Gretchen and her family had supported the year before, would be rebranded in Gretchen’s honor.
Under the tagline “Go Grey for Gretchen,” Rudemiller recruited more than 70 residents to participate. Rudemiller had T-shirts and water bottles donated from her father-in-law and printed in support of Gretchen’s campaign.
Other neighbors set up and operated a lemonade stand in Gretchen’s honor on the day of the race.
More than 70 race registrants participated in Gretchen’s honor. Their efforts yielded more than $5,000.
Fellow neighbor and professional photographer Amanda Knerr donated her services to capture the events of the day. Knerr’s involvement was made all the more poignant for the fact that she had helped her five-year-old daughter battle ovarian cancer just a few years prior.
“I never really knew how much I was loved until all this happened,” Gretchen said.
Today, Gretchen’s scans are 100 percent clear. She remains on a five night per month oral chemo until September, at which point she will walk the Ross Bridge 8K once again, this time, as a survivor.