Late one night in November, Gwen Fletcher, 10, gave her mother a locket with a picture of her husband, Dylan, who had died two weeks earlier of pancreatic cancer.

Julie Fletcher, 37, was bedridden and in the final stages of an extremely rare and incurable form of cancer that had started in the thymus.

Gwen woke up early the next morning, shortly before 6:30 a.m. on Nov. 29, and gave her mother a long hug.

“Five minutes later, she was gone,” Gwen said.

Dylan Fletcher, 47, also had died at home at about 6:30 a.m., on Nov. 15. He was first diagnosed in 2016, went through treatments at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and was declared in remission this July, before the cancer returned in September, family members said.

After Gwen’s parents died within two weeks of each other, family, friends and the community are rallying around the Lyman Elementary School student and her grandmother.

“It’s just the two of us now,” said Gail Fletcher, 67, Dylan’s mother. A family friend started a fundraising page to help defray the costs of medical treatment and to provide for Gwen’s future.

In an interview Saturday, Gwen said her parents had a deep love for each other and couldn’t be apart long.

“Two weeks (in between their deaths) was the longest they had ever gone without seeing each other,” said Gwen, who has a wide smile and shoulder-length light brown hair. Her parents worked together at a pressure-washing business they owned, and hunted, fished and rode snowmobiles together.

“They were completely inseparable,” Gail Fletcher said.

Doctors have told Gwen and her grandmother that the couple’s cancers were not related to any environmental exposure, and it was a coincidence that they both died from cancer within a few weeks of each other.

Dylan Fletcher had a family history of pancreatic cancer. Julie Fletcher suffered from NUT cancer of the midline, which started in the thymus, a small organ near the sternum that is crucial in the development of the immune system.

Julie Fletcher was diagnosed with the cancer – a rare, genetic and aggressive disease – on May 25, her birthday. She underwent experimental drug treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, but nothing helped, her mother-in-law said.

“There’s no rhyme or reason to this. No one can explain it. They were too young,” Gail Fletcher said quietly.

She said her focus is on Gwen’s future. Her son and daughter-in-law did not have life insurance, she said, and they went through their savings during their illnesses.

“This is all for Gwen. I’m hoping to be here for when she graduates high school, but I’m not going to be here forever,” said Gail Fletcher, whose husband, David, died in 1990.

Gwen is determined to forge ahead – she already is back in school as a fifth-grader at Lyman Elementary. She and her grandmother live together in Lyman with their dog, Apollo, and five cats. Gwen’s only sibling is her half-sister, Alexis Petrin, who lives in New Hampshire.

Gwen is carrying on her parents’ love of the outdoors – she frequently went fishing with them, and helped tap the maple trees on their 50-acre property and make syrup. Gwen said she “always” caught the first mackerel when they went fishing.

Gwen loves to take care of animals – she raised two pigs this year and now has two freezers stuffed with pork chops, bacon and sausage. She and her grandmother plan to give a lot of it away, partly because there are other people in need and also because the two of them living at home now can’t eat that much pork, Gwen said, laughing. Before her father’s health deteriorated, he built his daughter a “pig hut” to shelter the animals.

Gail Fletcher works numerous jobs, including catering, pet-sitting, house-sitting and elder care. She met Kathleen Kinsella of Kennebunk many years ago, and Kinsella set up the gofundme page to help the Fletchers. Gwen and her grandmother are resilient, considering all they have been through, Kinsella said.

Gwen is also going to support sessions at the Center for Grieving Children in Portland.

She said her classmates, teachers at Lyman Elementary and friends have been very supportive. For inspiration, she often thinks of what her parents would say.

“My mom always would say that you can always find something to be thankful for,” Gwen said, before looking into her grandmother’s eyes and giving her a big hug.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

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Twitter: joelawlorph


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