EARLIER: Artist, dogsledder Shelly Stetson diesStetson, an artist and a dog musher and a mother, had been diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2005.
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
Shelly Stetson would have loved the sunrise over Lake Superior early Monday morning. She loved rocks and trees and animals and wild places.
But she didn’t see the sunrise Monday morning. She died as the sun came up, said her husband, Duluth musher John Stetson. Her four-year battle with cancer was over.
“The day she was diagnosed, she said, ‘If I die today, I still would have lived a better life than a lot of people get to live,’” John Stetson said.
Shelly, who was an artist and a dog musher and a mother, had been diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2005. Despite chemotherapy, radiation and numerous alternative medicines, the cancer eventually metastasized to her brain, her hip and her bones. She was 40. She and John have one child, a son named Nelson, who is 7.
Her battle with cancer went public in 2006, when friends held a 24-hour “Pull for Shelly” event on the track at Duluth East High School. More than 100 friends pulled a dogsled on wheels around the track to raise money to help with the Stetsons’ medical expenses, organizer Jim Pratt said.
Shelly and John Stetson chose to live simply at their property on a lake north of Duluth where they kept a garden, sled dogs, pet dogs, chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits and goats.
“She loved animals,” John said. “She loved the chickens and the ducks and the turkeys. We were supposed to eat a lot of those animals, but all we ever ate was a certain group of chickens.”
Linda Nervick, a friend from Duluth, remembered going to a chicken swap in Carlton with Shelly.
“We went to a chicken swap and came home with a pony,” Nervick said. “That was Shelly.”
But it was Shelly’s sense of calm and her positive energy that most people speak of when they remember her.
“She was a wonderful spirit. You always felt it when you were around her,” said polar explorer Will Steger of Ely, a good friend of the Stetsons. “There was this great grounding.”
“People are drawn to her. All kinds of people,” said good friend Ingrid Evavold of Foxboro.
John Stetson said he was drawn to Shelly because of her sense of adventure. They knew each other for 15 years and were married for 10. Their first date was peeling logs for a friend’s home in Ely. For 12 years, they spent each October and November training their sled dogs in Churchill, Manitoba. Polar bear encounters weren’t uncommon. Shelly was undaunted.
“She wielded a shotgun like a state trooper — with a baby on her back,” John Stetson said.
When John was commercial fishing in Alaska, Shelly went north with him. They once hiked and dog-packed 100 miles on Ellesmere Island with Steger. She attempted, but couldn’t quite finish, the 91-mile Midnight Run Sled Dog Race in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula when she was undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
“She was incredibly gutsy,” Evavold said.
Through the years, Shelly continued her art, creating designs with ceramic tile and making quilts. She had hoped to finish a quilt for her son Nelson, but the cancer caught up with her. Her mother, Monie McAdams of Hayward, will finish the quilt, Stetson said.
Although she endured a lot of pain while she fought cancer, she did so without a whimper, John said.
“Not one single time,” John said.
Early on in their years together, when the couple talked about their life goals, Shelly told John she wanted to do art and she wanted to be old.
“That was our promise to each other, that we would be old and sit in rocking chairs together,” he said. “But you can’t plot it out.”
A memorial service will be held for Shelly Stetson at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Duluth, 835 College St. A potluck will follow from 5 to 7 p.m.