Illinois cancer patient raises money to pay for her own funeral - and to help others

Chalise Scholl, 37, visits her mother's grave in LaSalle, Illinois, in spring 2019.

Chalise Scholl’s mother died of heart disease and breast cancer two years ago, and to pay for the burial, Scholl cashed in her own small life insurance policy of $1,000.

Scholl, then 35, assumed she had plenty of time to buy a new policy.

Sadly, she was wrong.

Almost one year later, in November 2018, Scholl, of Peoria, Illinois, ended up in the emergency room with abnormal bleeding. Tests revealed cervical cancer that had spread to her liver. Her doctor grimly said she’d be lucky to live another six months.

“It was shocking and scary — I was all alone,” said Scholl, 37, who is single and has no siblings. “More than anything, I wanted my mom there to hug me and tell me that everything would be OK.”

With no savings from her job at a health-care call center and no life insurance, Scholl worried about leaving a large bill for her eventual burial to her grandparents and aunt. (Her father has not been involved in her life.)

“Funerals are expensive; I didn’t want my family members to have that kind of a burden,” she said.

Then, in May, Scholl came up with an idea to pay for her funeral: Her friends said she was “crazy strong,” so she would sell wristbands on Facebook for $4 each, printed with the hashtag “KraziiStrong” after her nickname.

Scholl’s best friend, Paris Green, supplemented that idea in June with a GoFundMe page, hoping to raise $10,000 for a memorial service with the works, including lots of flowers and soothing music.

Within days, it became apparent that the funeral fund would blow way past that number.

“I woke up the first morning and saw that people had donated more than $1,000,” said Scholl, who is now in hospice care. “Then the day after that, I was amazed to see it had reached the goal of $10,000. I couldn’t believe it.”

Scholl’s eyes filled with tears as she saw some of the comments people left after reading about her on Facebook, GoFundMe and in Chicago media.

“I’m sure your mom is very proud of your continued strength,” wrote one woman.

“Cancer is so ugly but you are so beautiful!” wrote another.

“Nobody should have to worry about their funeral,” wrote a third.

Scholl said she was astounded that complete strangers cared enough to reach out to her. Dozens of letters arrived at her house from people she didn’t know.

“People will tuck $5 into a card and tell me to go enjoy an ice cream or a movie. I’m overwhelmed — it means more than they’ll ever know,” she said.

The GoFundMe has raised more than $28,000 and her wristbands have raised more than $1,000 — enough to prepay $15,300 for Scholl’s funeral and to send her on a final vacation next month with relatives to water parks in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, where she will use a wheelchair to get around. She still plans to go on waterslides. She also has a last wish: to help others who are coping with cancer.

“In the next couple of months, I want to pay it forward with all of the money that is left and make as many people happy as I can,” said Scholl, who plans to donate several thousand dollars to a local cancer center and help people with cancer to pay their medical and household bills.

“Already, I’ve helped one person to keep the lights on when she fell behind on the bill,” she said. “I know how it is to not be able to work because you’re going through chemo.”

Those who know Scholl aren’t surprised she wants to help others with the extra funds.

“She’s that person who takes care of everybody, but has a hard time letting other people help her,” said Green, 29.

Scholl said she was surprised to learn that cervical cancer strikes more than 13,000 women every year, mostly between the ages of 35 and 44.

“By the time you learn you have it,” she said, “it’s often too late.”

Now that doctors have confirmed that the cancer has spread throughout her body, Scholl has stopped chemotherapy treatments and has moved in with her mom’s sister, Barbara Lopez, who offered to be her caregiver.

“I’m at peace with whatever happens,” Scholl said. “I just want to enjoy being with the people I love in whatever time I have left.”

Lopez said she is determined to keep her niece smiling and comfortable in her final days.

“We want to give her as much fun and family togetherness as we can,” Lopez said.

Scholl, who has written her own obituary, said she plans to be buried next to her mother, Gail Scholl, who was 57 when she died. Her grandmother bought side-by-side plots for them years ago.

First, though, there is some important business to attend to.

“When I’m in Wisconsin Dells, I want to win the biggest stuffed carnival bear there and give it to the smallest kid I can find,” she said.

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