Sherry Hammel spent the last few months creating special memories.
About two months ago, doctors told the 37-year-old mom of five she didn't have much longer to live, and she wanted to give loved ones some happy memories.
The Altoona native died Wednesday after battling stage four colon cancer since her diagnosis in July 2010.
On a Friday evening in late September, Hammel, who lived in McClure, Snyder County, with her husband, Bob, and children - Matthew, 13, 11-year-old twins Billy and Damian, Robert, 5, and Larissa, 2 - had come to the city home of her sister, Brandy Ronan, to attend a festival.
When her doctors told the strong-spirited Hammel she only had a short time to live after cancer had spread throughout her body, they had to double check that she had comprehended what they were saying, because she accepted it so gracefully.
Hammel had said she wasn't scared and knew where she was going.
If you go:
What: Spaghetti dinner to benefit the family of Sherry Hammel, who died Wednesday
When: 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17
Where: Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, 1 Cathedral Square
Cost: Free dinner and drink with $10 admission
To donate: Donations can be sent c/o Bob Hammel to 12 W. Specht St., McClure, PA 17841
"It's in God's hands. It's his decision. He puts us here, and he takes us out of here," she said at the time. "The doctors can only do as much as he guides them to do."
All she wanted was to spend time with her family, making memories, she said.
A $10 spaghetti dinner to help support the family is taking place from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, 1 Cathedral Square.
Money raised will go to her family, whose members are facing "astronomical" medical bills, a funeral and a utility bill that is at least $1,000, friend Jessica Dunn said. They have raised $2,000 toward the $10,000 funeral so far, Dunn said.
Trinity Lutheran churches - the one in Juniata where Hammel was a longtime member and the one in McClure - held a fundraiser, Ronan said. Hammel had taught Sunday school at both churches.
About 10 years ago, the then-single Hammel took legal custody of Matthew, Billy and Damian after their biological mother signed over the rights. Hammel had begun caring for the children at a day care where she worked at the time. She and her husband officially adopted the three oldest children after her diagnosis.
"I fell in love with them, and they were just always my kids," she had said.
Ronan said her sister wanted to fight for her children and husband.
Hammel started doubling over in pain when she was pregnant with Larissa, but doctors at a hospital told her the pain was associated with the pregnancy.
When the pain continued after Hammel gave birth, she went to another hospital and had a CAT scan. The doctors told her there were tumors in her liver, and a colonoscopy confirmed their diagnosis of stage four colon cancer.
She had surgery to remove the tumors from her colon and liver. She underwent chemotherapy for more than a year with some success.
The cancer, however, spread to her lungs and was inoperable. Recently, she had found out the cancer had moved into her brain in the form of two tumors. She underwent radiation in an attempt to gain more time with her family.
Once the brain tumors were found, the doctors gave Hammel about two months to live. She was aiming to see another Christmas.
Ronan said her sister was determined and had been waiting for a miracle. Hammel had unbelievable faith and strength, she said.
Hammel reached out to encourage fellow patients suffering with cancer through her faith while receiving treatment, Ronan said.
Hammel left behind many other friends and family, including cousins, nieces and nephews who will miss her, Ronan said Thursday. Ronan and Hammel have a half-sister, Bonnie Mishock of Altoona, and a half-brother, Ronnie Forsht of Williamsport.
Friends Dawn Davis and Ginger Shoeman, both of Altoona, stuck by Hammel's side, helping during her time of need, Ronan said.
The hardest part for Hammel was thinking about her children growing up without her, she had said in September. She wondered whether Larissa would actually remember her, because she is so young, or if she would just have secondhand memories through photos or family stories.
Bob Hammel said his wife remained positive through it all. Her children were her main priority, and she would worry about him more than herself, he said.
"She always put everybody else's needs before hers," he said.
Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.