For a few moments Saturday evening, the soft glow of candles warmed Wesley Medical Center’s courtyard in honor of a shining light about to flicker out.
Kelli Frazier, 45, watched the crowd from a wheelchair. She tugged up her collar to stave off the evening’s chill. Her eyes welled with tears as she mouthed “I love you” and “Thank you” to her students and friends.
Frazier, a beloved Pleasant Valley Middle School teacher, this week announced the cancer invading her body also would take her life.
“It’s time,” she wrote in a private Facebook post to family and friends. “As we feared, the cancer in my liver has progressed to the point that we are simply out of viable treatment options. We are down to a few weeks.”
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At the candlelight vigil — held Saturday as a last farewell for the teacher — her mother, Sandy Gable, brushed a tuft of hair from her daughter’s forehead.
“She’s not going alone,” Gable told a few hundred onlookers. “She’s not going where it’s dark. She’s going where it’s light.”
‘Everybody is dying’
Many know Frazier as a fighter. She beat breast cancer following a diagnosis in 2006. By 2009, after eight rounds of chemotherapy and 35 of radiation, she was in remission. During treatment she pursued dreams, earning a bachelor’s degree and teaching certification after leaving an advertising career.
But a few months later, a sinus infection eventually led to a biopsy. Physicians found a spot on one of her lungs. The disease had returned — recurrent breast cancer that spread to a lung and her bones, a doctor told her.
This time there was no cure.
Back then, the middle-school teacher explained to students she might live two years or a little more. In an April 2010 interview, she told The Eagle, “I try not to dwell on it.”
“Everybody is dying one day at a time,” she said, chuckling. “But in a way it kind of sharpens your every day” and makes her try “harder.”
To not complain. To stay positive. To be happy. “To be sure that you are doing things that matter to you,” she said.
Just shy of three years later, Frazier gazed over the crowd gathered in the courtyard. Weak from the cancer, she spoke softly: “If I don’t get to hug you, remember the ones I gave when you were with me.”
A tearful farewell
Fellow Pleasant Valley teacher Darcy Busch said Frazier’s impact will last after her death. Dozens of tearful teens — Frazier’s students, Busch said — packed into the tiny courtyard. Each held a candle. Some sang when a guitarist strummed “This Little Light of Mine.”
“No matter if we aren’t going to see Kelli at school, she’ll still be there for her students and those who she’s touched,” Busch said.
Others at the vigil encouraged Frazier’s family and friends to carry on her spirit and willingness to listen to problems, give hugs and laugh.
“Pay that generosity, kindness and love forward,” Gable said. “Get busy making someone else’s load a little lighter.”
Frazier will spend her final days at Wesley, those close to her said. She doesn’t want a funeral because it’s “just not my thing.”
“Even at just 45, I can honestly say I’ve had a GREAT life,” she wrote on Facebook. “I’m leaving with no regrets.”