But central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma proved a powerful opponent that not even his benevolent spirit could appease. He passed away seven months after his diagnosis and after months of chemotherapy and radiation therapy at what was then the Community Cancer Center and is now Carle Cancer Institute Normal (CCIN). He was always most grateful for the care and kindness showed to him at the Cancer Institute. It was his nature.
That December, his two daughters made their first blankets.
Still grappling with the loss of their father and shrouded in grief, their father’s words and life-long actions remained clear as day. “Dad would literally give the coat off his back to someone in need,” remembers Andrea Campbell, the youngest of Grethey’s three children. “Dad would want us to give back. My sister Lea Anna and I remembered seeing something about blanket making and we thought that’s what we could do.” The idea received support from their brother Victor, and mother, Wilma. Making tied blankets was a way to help them grieve and tied them together as a family. It was, they felt, exactly what their dad would have wanted them to do.
The family made about 30 blankets that first year to gift patients receiving chemotherapy at CCIN. Like guardian angels, they left their blankets on the therapy chairs for patients to find when they arrived for their treatment.
“We hoped we would be warming hearts with a little ray of sunshine,” Campbell says.
Fast forward to 2022. Campbell reports there are now three generations of blanket makers. Her mother steadfastly helped tie blankets each year until her death in 2020, and is deeply missed, but the team of blanket makers has also grown with the addition of spouses, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Their annual effort even developed a name over the years – Covers of the Heart.
This year will mark the 20th year that blankets are lovingly made and gently laid on the chemotherapy chairs for unsuspecting patients to find.
Through the years, hundreds of patients have wrapped themselves in the family’s handmade blankets and felt the love and support its makers fused into them. Though it is certainly not expected, family members enjoy seeing letters from patients their blankets found. Besides the letters, there are typically at least one or two messages posted to Facebook about the blankets each year.
“Everyone was so wonderful to our dad, from the front desk to all the employees who interacted with him,” Campbell shares. “We are forever grateful and the blankets have become our family tradition.”
The pain of losing their father is fresh each time the family walks through the doors of CCIN because they know it was their father’s cancer journey that brought them there. But, it’s also in celebration of his spirit that they give. As Campbell affirms, “Our dad wouldn’t want us to be sad. We’re sharing his tradition of giving back to people.”
Campbell has been traveling from St. Louis each year to join her sister and brother and extended family to drop off their blankets at the CCIN. This year, they have made about 50 blankets for patients -- it’s enough for each of the spots in the chemotherapy treatment room and some in the radiation treatment area.