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Tribute to an inspirational woman serves others with breast cancer

When Jeanelle Crowell Cross, known to all as "Jel," learned she had aggressive breast cancer, she immediately decided two things: 1. cancer would not define her, and 2. something good would come from her diagnosis.

The 31-year old teacher, who taught special education at Roxboro Road Elementary School in Mattydale, kept up with her full-time position and postgraduate classes despite the diagnosis of stage 4 ductal carcinoma that had spread to her lymph nodes and liver.

Jeanelle Jel Crowell Cross

Jeanelle "Jel" Crowell Cross

“She would not let cancer define who she was or keep her from living a full and meaningful life,” said Jackie Gaffield, Jeanelle‘s mother, who recalls her daughter as an energetic teacher who inspired her students and as a creative young woman with a keen fashion sense who loved to bake and share treats with friends and family. She pursued those interests during 18 months of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation treatment.

In the years following her daughter‘s death in September 2012, many tributes have followed, including a playground, a golf tournament, scholarships and a research grant named in her memory. Gaffield also made a gift to the Upstate Cancer Center in honor of her daughter, grateful for the care she received from Sheila Lemke, MD, and the treatment team. This gift helped, in part, to pay for an infusion station where patients receiving chemotherapy treatments can look over the healing garden.

Family and friends also wanted to extend support to other young women who are being treated for breast cancer and drew their inspiration from Jel‘s interests and zest for life. Through the Upstate Foundation, the “AnJel Fund” extends personal services such as makeovers, spa services, gym memberships, house cleaning, and family entertainment packages to patients age 40 and under. “These offer an emotional lift when it is needed most,” said Gaffield. “We sometimes forget that these brave young women (and men) need pampering so that they feel beautiful and strong.”

Nurse Lori Brzeczkowski is a breast cancer patient navigator at the Upstate Cancer Center who coordinates the fund. "The AnJel Fund is a thoughtful legacy which can provide comfort at a difficult time for young breast cancer patients," she said. "The fund is an expression of the gratitude and fulfills Jeanelle's wish to have a positive impact on others who share her diagnosis."

Young women interested in accessing personal services can contact Brzeczkowski by calling 315-464-3509,. Donations to the AnJel Fund may be made at www.upstatefoundation.org/AnJel.

This article appears in the summer 2015 issue of Cancer Care magazine.