“Munira, you and I are on a parallel journey. We are going to fight this together.”
I still remember Tony Gemmiti saying this to me, with such optimism, with such hope, at the Multiple Myeloma Walk on June 22nd, just a couple of weeks ago. Never could I have imagined these would be the last words I’d ever hear him say.
I vividly remember the first time I met Mary and Tony Gemmiti. On a cold February afternoon earlier this year, the couple entered the Multiple Myeloma Support Group meeting, fresh snowflakes on their coats. Tony had been diagnosed with Myeloma in October 2012 and had his stem cell transplant in December 2013. This support group was his first outing after the transplant.
As the meeting progressed, I watched Mary and Tony in admiration. It was hard not to notice them. They were playful with each other, often stealing glances at each other. They finished each other’s sentences. They joked with each other. They had an easy comfort about them that comes from being together happily for 30 years. It was obvious they had a rich life and a great marriage. He proclaimed that she was the best caregiver possible – – and she agreed!
We hit it off with the Gemmiti’s immediately, and they included us in their world. Over the next few months, Mary and I kept in touch with each other, mostly through Facebook and my blog. I so admire Mary – – she is the epitome of grace and strength and beauty. Alas, Tony’s second stem cell transplant in March 2014 did not take. He was then put on a clinical trial and they were so optimistic that a miracle would occur.
I saw Mary again at the next Myeloma Support Group meeting in May. She came alone this time as Tony was not well enough. We talked, we cried, we laughed and we hugged – partners in this club of cancer.
Mary and I spoke about the upcoming Journey to Conquer Cancer-Multiple Myeloma Walk. She immediately took on the challenge and next thing I know, she and Tony amassed an army of what looked like hundreds of participants to join the “Gemm Team” and walk for the cause. The Gemm Team finished in the top 3 teams of fundraisers and raised a whopping $32,500!
When I met Mary at the walk last month, she introduced me to the team and her family, including her two sons, Michael and Robert, and again I felt immediately enveloped by the all-encompassing love in the Gemmiti family, as if I had known them forever.
I was so delighted to see Tony at the Walk. Although he was a shadow of himself and had lost a lot of weight, he had that mischievous smile and the bright eyes were still very much there. We made a vow that day to keep fighting together.
Four days after the walk, Mary wrote to me to say that Tony was taken off the clinical trial and being put in Palliative care. She said that we could come and see him at the hospital. I cried as I heard this news. I did not feel strong enough to see Tony right away and told her that I would come and visit the following week. I never saw Tony again. He passed away last Thursday afternoon.
As sad as I am, I am so proud of how Tony chose to live the last days of his life. He accepted that his time had come and he invited friends, family and colleagues to the hospital to talk, joke and say goodbye. Throngs of well-wishers stormed through the halls of the hospital, and Tony and Mary welcomed them all with open arms – Gemmiti style!
Nagib, Sabrina and I went to Tony’s viewing over the weekend. We saw pictures of Tony as a hockey and baseball coach; relaxing while on vacation; even a picture of Mary and Tony as newly-weds — and I wished I had known them for longer. At the viewing, again we were struck by the love in the room. If the wealth of a person is counted by the people who love them, then Tony Gemmiti is the richest man of all. Tony died as he lived — on his own terms, with the love of family and friends surrounding him. His loss will be felt deeply by all who knew and loved him.
I often forget that I have cancer and this past weekend, seeing Tony, was a reminder of the world that I am a part of. For the first time, I wondered about how long I had to live. I witnessed the effect that death has on care-givers as they lose a loved one. I questioned the insanity of it all. I need to sit with this for awhile and make sense of this. Mary told me that, on one of his last days, Tony said that although he could not be saved from this devastating illness, he was optimistic that the funds raised for the Journey to Conquer Cancer will help other patients. So, to keep Tony’s dream alive, I will continue to fight and battle the cancer, and I will keep Tony’s memory in my heart every day.