‘She Was a Giver.’
Ale Skinkle defined her life and legacy through the act of giving back.
The day before Ale Skinkle died, she paid a visit to the infusion center at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center. Although she’d been there many times as a patient, on this particular day, she wasn’t there for treatment. Instead, she came in carrying a cardboard box full of 40 monogrammed plastic water jugs — gifts for the infusion nurses she’d come to know so well over the course of her eight-year battle with ovarian cancer.
Ale’s husband, Chris, shares this story now to illustrate the kind of person Ale (pronounced “Allie”) was because, in his words, she meant so much to so many: She was a wife and a mother, a woman of faith and a world traveler, a lover and a fighter. But more than anything, she was a giver. In fact, a few weeks after she passed, Chris received an unexpected call from Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation. Unbeknownst to him, Ale had pledged a generous donation — her legacy gift in honor of the doctors and nurses who loved her as much as she loved them.
“When I heard about the gift Ale wanted to make, it didn’t surprise me. That’s Ale. Then, when I saw the new facility (the Novant Health Agnes B. and Edward I. Weisiger Cancer Institute), I was moved. I really was. When I walked off the elevator on the seventh floor and you see the panoramic view of the city, I thought, ‘This is what those patients deserve to see. They deserve to have a little bit of hope,’” Chris said. “I knew I had to honor Ale’s gift.”
Now, the new Weisiger Cancer Institute will carry her memory and her legacy forward: Inside, the new Integrative Medicine Conference Center bears her name.
Chris and Ale met back in 1992 at a sorority party at Belmont Abbey College. They dated for a while. Chris even proposed. Then, they ended up going their separate ways. As Chris tells the story, fate eventually brought them back together, and in 2006, they were married.
“It was kind of a fairy tale,” he said. “We were two people from two totally different walks of life. She was from El Salvador. I was an American from Jamestown, North Carolina. It was a great time of my life.”
Ale became an elementary school teacher. Chris started working at one of the local banks. They settled in the Barclay Downs neighborhood in Charlotte and had two children: Emma and Thomas.
Then, when Thomas was just over a year old, Ale was working with a personal trainer, trying to lose the last of her baby weight, when the trainer told her she was concerned the “belly” Ale was worried about wasn’t extra weight. She encouraged Ale to see a doctor, and she went to Matt McDonald, MD, at Presbyterian Medical Center. On Jan. 4, 2013, McDonald confirmed the mass in Ale’s abdomen was ovarian cancer.
Ale’s first operation was supposed to be a few hours. It ended up taking more like five.
“I knew it was bad news,” Chris said. “Dr. McDonald came out and told us he had been working hard to get everything he could, but the cancer had metastasized. It was everywhere, and he did the best job he could.”
Over the course of the next seven years, McDonald saved Ale’s life several times over, Chris recalled. There were more surgeries, experimentations with different kinds of chemotherapy, a regimen of alternative therapies. And through it all, Ale kept her faith and her commitment to living every second she had left.
“We knew there was limited time, and when you’re faced with limited time, you can make a decision to make memories or to sit there and sulk. Ale wanted to make memories for the kids and for us,” Chris said.
So they did. They hiked Mount Kilimanjaro. They went on a weeklong safari in the Serengeti. They visited Mexico, Tuscany, Germany, France, Sweden and the Swiss Alps. They skied and rode in a hot air balloon and paraglided. They chased the Northern Lights in Norway.
“I’m forever thankful for those experiences because, before I met Ale, I had never been out of the country, except for maybe a trip to Canada,” Chris said. “She was just an Energizer bunny. She never stopped. Some chemotherapies would knock her down for a couple of days, but she didn’t want the kids to see her in bed for long. She always fought to put on a good front.”
And throughout it all, she continued to give back, as much as she could.
“During the last few months of Ale’s life, she was preparing backpacks to give to other children with eight to 10 books in each of them, all about how you deal with it when your parent gets cancer,” Chris said. “Ale wanted to give these to Dr. McDonald’s office and whoever could distribute them so people would have more resources than we did when this all started.”
Now, Chris is continuing Ale’s work. This fall, he will host a celebration of life in honor of Ale, and those who attend will have an opportunity to give to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation and support other families going through a cancer battle of their own.
“Ale was a giver. She thought about everybody else before herself, up until the end. She was amazing,” Chris said. “She used to be so thankful when she woke up in the morning. She was not a morning person, but she was thankful she woke up every morning. And she gave thanks to God every day. That was our journey; it was a journey through faith.”
It’s always a good time to give back.
You can help support the remarkable work happening at Presbyterian Medical Center and the Weisiger Cancer Institute with a gift to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation. Let Ale be an inspiration to us all that it’s always a good time to give back.