By Carolyn Myers
Kelly Cornelius-Fisher had the misfortune to be diagnosed with cancer twice. When she beat it the first time, she was truly grateful to be free and clear of the disease. Cancer wasn’t through with Kelly, though; it came back on her later with a vengeance. But Kelly was a fighter and with the tremendous support of her parents, siblings, other family members and friends, she kept the disease at bay for several years, much longer than her doctors had thought possible. Over time, Kelly had taken almost every treatment offered and her body became so tired that finally, when she was resting one day, her spirit left its earthly home and soared away, free of pain and sorrow. She was 47 years old.
Before Christmas 2018, before Kelly’s final departure, she told her parents, Tommy and Jean Cornelius, about three missions she would like to have fulfilled. First, she wanted to do a simple gesture of gratitude to the people who had been so kind and understanding during her extended illnesses; she wanted to make cookies for all her doctors, nurses and techs in Texarkana, all those who had helped since her first diagnosis of breast cancer. Kelly had become so ill that she was not able to make her goals happen but her mother promised that she would see to it for Kelly. Jean Cornelius made over 300 cookies, bagged and distributed them in Kelly’s name to hospitals and doctors’ offices all over the city.
Her second mission was to help provide wigs for those cancer patients who were not able to get wigs for themselves. Kelly’s mother, Jean, had been Wadley’s Volunteer Coordinator for 25 years and, as such, had made many connections within that world. One of those lines of help came from the American Cancer Society which, at one time, had donated wigs through Wadley to cancer patients. That service had stopped but Jean knew that a number of wigs were still available. She called the right people and got permission for the remaining wigs to go Dr. Patel’s patients in Collom and Carney’s oncology department. Approximately 100 wigs were ready to be given to patients who needed them.
Kelly’s third mission was also concern for patients like herself. Cancer causes most patients to feel cold even in “normal” temperatures and often the treatment they receive makes them feel cold also. Hospital rooms seem to be much cooler than many of us keep our homes so most patients appreciate a blanket or an extra sheet. A friend of Jean’s knew that Kelly had cancer and brought Jean a small quilt as a gift for Kelly. Whenever Kelly went in for treatment, she took the quilt with her and soon other patients started asking where she got the pretty covering.
Jean recounted Kelly request for her final mission:
“Kelly wanted her fellow patients to have one of the small quilts so she said, ‘Mama, I know you sew and you quilt and you have friends that do, too, who could help. I would like for you to make these people some quilts like mine.’
“I said to her, ‘Kelly, Mama can’t do that right now and take care of you.’
“She said softly, ‘Well, after I’m gone, Mama, would you please see that that mission gets fulfilled for me?’
“I promised her I would and that’s what I’m doing now with some help from others,” Jean said.
Jean explained that with help from her sister-in-law, Margaret Cornelius, who lives in Hope, and Irene Lott of Ashdown, they finished 19 quilts between Jan. 11, when Kelly passed away, and April 17.
Another friend of Jean’s wanted to be a part of the mission.
“His name is Jack Jones and he lives in Texarkana, Arkansas,” Jean said. “He’s just like my big brother and he volunteered for me at the hospital. He does beautiful embroidery work and he designed a little angel. We came up with the words, ‘There’s an angel among us and her name is Kelly’ and he embroidered that on the back of every one of the quilts. I was just really thrilled.”
Jean had wanted to present the quilts to the oncology department on Kelly’s birthday, April 19, but as time came closer, Jean felt she simply couldn’t do it, not on that day. The three women decided to make the presentation in honor of Kelly on April 17 instead.
Jean continued, “That was the week before Easter. They did not let very many patients come in that week. They always kind of give them a break before a holiday and so there weren’t but a couple of patients when we carried the quilts to the hospital, but those patients were thrilled to death – and the nurses and Dr. Patel. He hugged my neck three different times. The nurses were so pleased that we did this for all those patients and we told them that this would be a continual thing – we would not bring 19 quilts at one time but we would continue to make them through the year and then just bring some every now and then when they got low on them. One of the patients hugged Irene and told her it meant a whole lot when they were in chemo to have a quilt to cover up with because it’s cold back there.
Jean explained that the quilts are just the size to cover from their feet to their neck and the width of their body. Each one is different. But every cancer patient got a quilt.
She continued, “Most of them are just scrap quilts from scrap pieces. They are just a little gift from Kelly. But every stitch was sewed with love for Kelly and for these people who she cared about.”