Editor’s note: We are very sad to report that John Gregory passed away on March 16. We dedicate this story to him and his inspiring family.
When they turned to City of Hope in September 2011, 68-year-old John Gregory and his wife, Jennifer, knew they faced a major challenge. His metastatic mucosal melanoma, a rare and aggressive disease, had invaded his intestines and rapidly taken over his body.
Jennifer and John Gregory shortly after renewing their vows. (Photo by p.cunningham)
But this is not an account of his miraculous recovery. It is about how the compassion of caregivers brought a moment of joy and gratitude into a couple’s life, and it began with their first steps into City of Hope.
“When we walked through the door last September, a volunteer who could barely walk himself said, ‘Here, let me help you,’” remembered Jennifer Gregory. “We looked at each other and said, ‘We at least have a shot.’ We were at peace.”
After his diagnosis, John Gregory underwent all the treatment physicians suggested: a colostomy, investigational chemotherapy, a craniotomy to remove a walnut-sized brain tumor, and three rounds of radiation therapy. They found peace knowing he tried every treatment he could.
They also sought spiritual counseling with Terry Irish, D.Min., a chaplain in the Division of Spiritual Care Services. The couple’s last anniversary — Aug. 10, 2011 — had been eclipsed by the cancer diagnosis the previous day. They knew they might not reach the next anniversary together, so they wanted to renew their wedding vows to reinforce their commitment to each other. They asked Irish to help make it happen.
Their nine children (now between ages 31 and 47) from their first marriages had blended into a family after their 1985 marriage. They decided not to put their family through the emotion of the ceremony, keeping it a private event.
“Although the wedding vow part was happy, it also was a very sad time,” said Jennifer Gregory. Through congratulatory texts, Facebook posts and phone calls, their family conveyed that they understood.
She brought her small white Bible to the Feb. 15 service while Irish brought along a gift for the couple: two delicate ceramic hearts that fit together and symbolized lasting love — and pending separation. The chaplain tied the smaller heart around John Gregory’s wrist and clasped a necklace carrying the larger heart around his wife’s neck.
When Irish asked the couple if they would take each other in marriage again, both said, “I will,” and meant it.
Decades ago City of Hope built Parsons Village as a place for patients and their caregivers to stay during prolonged treatment. The Gregorys called one apartment their home, their sanctuary and their honeymoon suite.
Remembering Hearts help patients and families deal with grief. (Photo by p.cunningham)
They filled the apartment with photos, crayoned drawings and well-wishes from their children, grandchildren and friends. Known collectively as “Team Gregory — Cancer Sucks,” the group gathered last November for John Gregory’s birthday. And more than 40 of them joined Walk for Hope Nationally Presented by Staples, marching past the couple’s window in the rain before reassembling in the apartment.
Ohio-born John Gregory worked as an executive and salesman in the building and construction industry. He and his wife raised their children in Cypress, Calif., where John (nicknamed “G-man”) doubled as the “neighborhood dad” and coached Little League for 20 years.
“We’ve had a tremendous life,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of things.”
Jennifer Gregory recently reunited the two hearts on her necklace. “By keeping the hearts joined together around my neck,” she said, “it will help me honor my husband and know his heart and mine will always be connected — in life and in death.”