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Doing the Right Thing

Strong is only one of the words friends and colleagues used to describe Gerri Johnson. Dignity, compassion and courage were a few others.

Chip Brewer and Gerri JohnsonStrong is only one of the words friends and colleagues used to describe Gerri Johnson. Dignity, compassion and courage were a few others. 

She had simple loves: family, work, music, fitness. 

"Cancer eventually robbed her of each of her loves," said her life partner Chip Brewer. 

Gerri was diagnosed with Stage I ovarian cancer in January 2001 at the age of 45. But throughout her four-year battle with cancer, she never let the disease become her identity. 

"Gerri refused to let cancer define her life or serve as an excuse," said close friend and law partner Doug Spiker. In fact, she continued to work full-time as a partner at the law firm of Roetzel & Andress, sometimes during a chemotherapy treatment or from a hospital bed. 

''We were partners in her battle against cancer. We drew strength from each other;' Chip said. But Gerri and Chip were both frustrated by what they found out about ovarian cancer. 

Ovarian cancer is fairly uncommon, yet it is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the United States and the leading cause of death from gynecologic malignancies. 

It can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are easily confused with other diseases and there is no single reliable screening tool to provide early detection. 

It became clear to Gerri and Chip that the disease was not well known or understood. They discovered that it was difficult to find information on treatment options. 

Doctors typically treat the disease by the "trial and error" method, due largely to the lack of knowledge and the relative lack of research and funding for ovarian cancer. 

After Gerri's battle ended in October 2004, Chip chose to continue her fight by establishing The Geraldine M. Johnson Cancer Research Fund at The Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

Friends, family and co-workers made many contributions in tribute to her life, character and immense strength. The fund will be used to support cancer research.

"Gerri would be embarrassed by the response and the attention to her fund because, for her, it was not about Gerri, it was always about other people,” Chip said.

"At the same time, Gerri would be thrilled about the purpose of her fund. She knew, first hand, the difficulties associated with fighting ovarian cancer and she would not want anyone to suffer as she did."

Gerri and Chip loved New Mexico, where they became interested in the Indian culture and Navajo weavings. They made a rare find several years ago of a Navajo "woman's chief blanket." Chief's blankets had to be earned and were worn only by individuals of great stature. 

For a woman to warrant this honor was very rare. In order to qualify for this honor, an Indian woman would have had to possess the same characteristics that could describe Gerri: compassion, kindness, respect, honesty and loyalty. The blanket is a symbol for Chip, a physical remembrance of Gerri's comforting spirit.

"She was the love of my life," Chip said. "I feel as connected to her today as I ever have. Her spirit still lives in my heart. Gerri's fund was created because it seemed like the right thing to do. I am only beginning to understand the significance of that decision, because, just like the characteristics needed to qualify for a woman's chief blanket, Gerri was always about doing the right thing."

The Geraldine M. Johnson Cancer Research Fund was established as a designated fund of GCF at the suggestion of attorney C. Gregory Schmidt of Santen & Hughes. To date, nearly 100 individuals and companies have made contributions to build the fund.

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