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Anne Notch's 'heart and spirit are on Long Lake'

Cancer patient Anne Notch grins after catching this huge walleye last summer in Hubbard County. She marveled at how easy it was. She said that day, she would have settled for a small pan fish. (Submitted photo)

The graceful way Anne Notch left this world is a testament to the way she lived in it.

Her brave story of a young life, and its premature end, is best told in her own words.

She chronicled her brief autobiography on a Caring Bridge Web site that brought tears to our eyes, even the most cynical of us.

Park Rapids Enterprise readers wept over a column written last fall by outdoor columnist Jason Durham, detailing Anne's struggle to catch a lunker walleye in Hubbard County and the larger battle that loomed in her life - fighting State 4 colorectal cancer and trying to be a wife and mother to three young children.

"God was smiling down on me," she wrote of the August 2008 fishing experience. "I caught the big one - a real keeper - and it felt good."

She didn't belong to us, but we nevertheless claimed her as our own. Last Tuesday, Jan. 13, Anne's Web site mentioned what a joy it was for the kids, Natalie, Sam and Christopher, to celebrate the joy of Christmas.

She passed away the next day at her Andover home, surrounded by her friends and family. She was 34.

The Notch family spent New Year's in the region, where Anne's in-laws own the New Frontier Resort on Long Lake. Because her lake time was so precious to Anne, her husband, Jon, and the three children, she will be interred here.

Parishioners and a priest from Trinity Episcopal and Presbyterian Church in Park Rapids brought her communion over New Year's and were saddened to learn she was selecting funeral music and verses she wanted at her memorial service.

In December, a heart-wrenching post appeared.

"I would do anything to be with my kids and Jon for my whole life," she wrote. "Our plans included FOREVER! If I could change my circumstances I would do so in a second. Unfortunately, I don't have that kind of power. As a result, I have to find comfort in the idea that God reveals himself in ways that can't be measured, in things that can't be seen, and through the wonderful acts of those around us who love and care for us on a miraculous level."

A deeply religious woman, Anne's faith was put to the ultimate test when she learned in October 2007 that she was not well. It began as a mysterious and severe shoulder pain while she was carrying Christopher, who was delivered prematurely Oct. 18, 2007, in order for Anne to start chemotherapy for her newly diagnosed cancer.

"The birth of my baby is a sign of hope and life," she wrote. " I need to be surrounded by strong people who believe in medicine and miracles."

Her first chemo treatment started one week later.

"It became clear to me how important he will be in my fight against cancer," she wrote. "He is the highest point on my rollercoaster.'

Throughout her ordeal, she discussed her pain, her hopes, her thoughts on religion, God's plan, good versus evil, her bravery, her fears of her children growing up without her, and her admissions of being bone tired and discouraged.

November 24, 2008, was that bleakest of days.

"I have known for over a year about the possibility of a day coming where chemotherapy is no longer an option," she wrote. "That day came today. The results of my scans were not good. The cancer has grown considerably.... There is nothing left t try."

Although Anne often voiced thoughts about why God let bad things happen to good people, she never wallowed in self-pity; never wondered "why me?" She reveled in the fact that God had a plan for her, and she would know it at the end.

She constantly related how buoyed she was by comments to her Web site. She passed her time during chemo sessions reading hundreds of e-mails and well wishes, from friends and strangers. "I got them down from 944 to 0!" she wrote triumphantly after one session.

Anne, a former school teacher, was married to Jon Notch eight years.

Her father-in-law, Ralph Notch, said Anne was surrounded by friends, well before she became ill.

"She was open, friendly," he recalled. "She never had a cross word to say about anybody."

Anne's later postings centered around the happy occasions: Watching sister Karen get married, little things like schools outings with Natalie, a trip to Sea World last fall with all three kids, trips to Long Lake where the family could enjoy being a family.

"She loved Park Rapids," said her mother-in-law, Sheri Notch. "Her heart and her spirit are on Long Lake."

Anne's funeral was Monday; then Park Rapids' adopted daughter came home Tuesday.

Anne left a strong legacy of love for her children in her postings, constantly telling them how much she loved them and fought for them.

"I'm so sad to hear about this," said Durham, who missed the fishing outing of his life - and Anne's. He had to pass the guided trip to his friend, Jeremy Anderson. That day Anne caught her lunker, followed by Natalie, who loves to fish. The two walleyes have been mounted together.

"I can only hope and pray that I have made all of the wonderful people in my life proud of me," Anne wrote one month before she passed away.