Love in Three Acts: Confronting Cancer as Husband and Father
Pat Garvey fell in love with his first wife, Chris, in Arnold Hall at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. Pat was a cadet at the academy in 1970 when Chris’s best friend set them up on a blind date. Pat hadn’t dated much, but he felt comfortable talking with Chris and he liked her smile. He remembers walking back to his room that night and telling one of his classmates in his hall that he had met the woman he was going to marry.
Act One: Whirlwind Wedding
Pat and Chris were married in June of 1972 in Farmington, New Mexico, in a Catholic ceremony. Pat had graduated from the Air Force Academy a few days prior to the wedding. After the reception the newlyweds traveled to Corpus Christi, Texas, for their honeymoon, on their way to Lubbock, where he was to be stationed.
“So much happened in my life in a short period of time,” Pat said. “It was all a whirlwind.”
While Pat pursued a career in the Air Force, Chris worked as a nurse. The couple had three children: Kate, Maura, and Kyle. In 1997, when Pat was traveling for work, Chris felt a lump in her left breast during a self-exam. It wasn’t until he returned from his trip that she told him about the lump.
“She tried to spare me,” Pat said. “I was a little upset and frustrated that she hadn’t told me right away.”
Chris went to the doctor and had a biopsy done. The cancer was malignant and she underwent a lumpectomy, during which part of her breast was removed. After surgery she went through chemo and radiation therapy.
“I wanted to push through and solve the problem,” Pat said. “I had a ‘we’re gonna lick this’ mentality.”
All of Chris’s hair fell out during her chemo treatments. Pat recalls that she was given a full dose of Adriamycin, a chemotherapy drug often referred to as “the Red Devil.” The doctors weren’t proactively treating Chris for loss of white blood cells, as they do now, so any illness she might have after chemo was a concern. One night Pat rushed her to the ER when she ran a fever.
“I was worried and nervous,” he said. “I didn’t want her to disappear.”
Ups and Downs
In March of 1998 Chris felt a lump under one of her arms. Her cancer had metastasized and she was put on Cytoxan, another chemotherapy drug. She eventually ended up at Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, because of her low white blood cell count.
“It was worry, worry, worry from the doctor all night long,” Pat recalled.
Chris made it through that illness and wanted to try a possible stem cell transplant. She and Pat traveled to Duke to begin the process, but she got sick again and ended up at Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth, where doctors discovered the cancer had traveled to her liver. She had a fever and fluid on her lungs.
“There were upsides and downsides,” Pat said. “She got back on Adriamycin and saw a little bit of progress; however, she had to take more narcotics because she was in more pain.”
On December 11, 1998, Pat took his son Kyle to the NCAA soccer semi-finals. Chris stayed at the house with their oldest daughter, Kate, and Chris’s brother David.
“I told her goodbye, said ‘I love you,’ and kissed her,” Pat said. He and his son hadn’t been gone long when Kate called to tell them that Chris had passed away. “It only took us fifteen or twenty minutes to get home, but it felt like forever.”
Pat’s other daughter, Maura, was at James Madison University when her mother passed. He still remembers how she screamed over the phone when he called to tell her the terrible news.
After twenty-six years of love, family, and companionship, Pat found himself a single dad to three young adults. “I had to learn how to cook and handle the household chores,” he said. “My grief definitely affected my parenting.”
Healing through Soccer
To honor Chris’s memory and to help himself and his family through the grieving process, Pat started the Christine Garvey Memorial Soccer Tournament. The tournament, now in its 16th edition, brings together youth soccer teams from all over the Hampton Roads region. Proceeds from the event are donated to Beyond Boobs! and Edmarc Hospice for Children.
Pat recalls watching Chris’s expression when their son Kyle scored a goal during the last soccer game she attended at Wolftrap Park a few months before her passing. “Kyle scored a goal from the right side of the pitch to the upper left corner of the goal,” Pat said. “I can still see Chris sitting there, watching that goal being scored. I think that’s where my idea for a soccer tournament got its start.”
Act Two: Another Chance at Love
The mother of one of Maura’s friends told Pat that, when he was ready to start dating again, she had a friend she wanted him to meet. In early 2000, Pat called and told her he was ready. On another blind date Pat met his second wife, Jane. For their first date their mutual friend prepared a meal for them at her house, and then a week later the two attended a function together at Langley Air Force Base. “We talked and talked and ignored all of the people around us,” Pat recalled.
Jane understood what Pat had been through with Chris, as she lost her first husband to renal cancer. Three weeks into their relationship, Pat asked Jane to marry him. “We had both had been a part of strong marriages, and we both knew that we wanted to be with each other,” Pat explained. “We were talking and kissing, and kind of on the flip I asked her to marry me.”
Jane said yes.
In 2008 Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer. She, too, detected a lump and went to her doctor.
“I was floored,” Pat said. “I didn’t want to deal with it again. I pulled away a little bit to work through my emotions, even though I know that Jane wanted more from me emotionally. I wondered why I had to visit this experience twice.”
Jane went through chemo and radiation and Pat is proud to call her a survivor.
Act Three: The Third Cut is the Deepest
Pat’s eldest daughter, Kate, went in for a mammogram in October of 2014 and was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 38 years old.
“It is hardest to watch my child go through this,” Pat said. “I hurt for her and I wish there was something more I could do.”
Kate had a bilateral mastectomy and underwent her first reconstruction surgery on Christmas Eve 2014. She started chemotherapy in February and will also undergo radiation.
“I know she’s scared,” Pat said. “Her mom did everything she could and she’s not here. She is also obviously worried about her two children.”
Kate’s cancer diagnosis was similar to Jane’s and she is being treated by the same doctors who successfully treated Jane’s cancer. “Kate wants Jane with her during her treatments,” Pat said. “Jane’s been a blessing to Kate as she deals with her diagnosis. In an ugly way, cancer is bringing the family closer together.”
Lending a Hand
When Pat learned of Kate’s diagnosis, his first phone call was to Beyond Boobs! executive director and cofounder Mary Beth Gibson. He was at a loss as to what to say to his daughter and he wanted Mary Beth to speak with her.
“When Kate was diagnosed with breast cancer I felt helpless as a dad. I can’t fix this for her,” Pat said. “The women at Beyond Boobs! can give advice that others can’t. The support they give is invaluable.”