In 1991, Anne McCouch, bald and feeble from a three-year struggle with cancer, visited the shrine of Katharine Drexel in Bensalem.
Mrs. McCouch told an Inquirer reporter that as she had prayed at the shrine of the future saint, she had said to God: "If you let me stay here, I promise to help other people with cancer."
Anne Diodato McCouch, 80, of Harleysville, founder of the Wellness Place in Lansdale, a nonprofit support organization for cancer patients, died of kidney failure Tuesday, May 25, at a daughter's home in Huntingdon Valley.
In 1988, Mrs. McCouch learned she had ovarian cancer, which spread to her spleen, bowels, and bladder. Despite aggressive chemotherapy, multiple operations, and a diet that included apricot pits and granulated pig urine, she was dying when she visited the shrine. A month later, however, her doctor told her that the cancer was disappearing.
In 1993, Mrs. McCouch began a support group in her home for cancer patients. By 2002, after several moves, the support group had become the Wellness Place for the Cancer Community and was in Luther Hall on the grounds of Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale.
The Wellness Place offered massage therapy, yoga, tai chi, monthly speakers, wig and prosthesis assistance, professional counseling, and lots of hugs. Mrs. McCouch cooked a big pot of soup for visitors every Friday. The facility was run by volunteers except for Mrs. McCouch, who drew a salary as executive director. Services were free, paid for by donations and fund-raising events.
Over the years, accolades for Mrs. McCouch included the American Cancer Society Award for Courage, a March of Dimes Woman of Achievement Award, a Peco Energy/Philadelphia Eagles Hometown Hero Award, and the Mercy Courage Award from Mercy Health Systems.
She shied away from taking credit for her achievements. "It's God's work, not mine," she told a reporter. "He's just using me."
In 2006, Mrs. McCouch retired as executive director of Wellness Place, now called the Wellness Community at the Anne McCouch Center in Lansdale. It is a branch of the Wellness Community of Philadelphia.
Mrs. McCouch grew up in South Philadelphia. At 17, she was a contestant in the Miss Philadelphia contest. After graduating from South Philadelphia High School, she worked as a photographer's model for print ads.
In 1949, she married William McCouch, whom she had met at a dance. While raising their seven children, she worked for radio stations as a hostess for visiting personalities and later did radio commercials.
Her family was her first priority, her daughter Maureen Pody said. She never forgot what the priest had told her when she and her husband married. Their children, he said, would be on loan to them from God, and it was up to them to give back trash or treasure, Pody said.
Mrs. McCouch was caregiver for her parents and other relatives who had medical problems. "She got as much out of helping people as they got from her," her daughter said.
In addition to her husband and daughter, Mrs. McCouch is survived by sons Matthew, Christopher, William Jr., Michael, and Robert; daughter Anne Mastil; two brothers; 12 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
A Funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 29, at Corpus Christi Church, 900 Sumneytown Pike, Lansdale, where friends may call from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Mrs. McCouch had been a church lector and Eucharistic minister.