January 1, 2016, Gary Hancock logged onto his Facebook page and wrote “I can’t wait to see what all good things come out of 2016. I am looking forward to a blessed year.” That would be the last time he would ever write those words. He said that he wishes it in his mind, but he will never write those words again on any social media platform. 2016 became of the most trying years of his life. In 2016, it became a year that Gary would experience the true meaning of the words (when he took his vows) through sickness and health. In 2016, he, also, experienced something else that was traumatic. What a year, 2016, it would be….
In 2010, Gary’s friends told him that they wanted to introduce him to someone, he told them that as long as the woman knew he wasn’t interested in anything serious he was okay with having a new friend. All he wanted was someone to occasionally go to dinner. Surprisingly, Mary Pat told her friends the same thing. The joke was on them. They fell in love. A year later, they were walking down the aisle saying “I do”. July 22, 2011 was when they became one together with them and with God on their side. It was God that gave them strength during these tumultuous times.
It was only a month later after Gary’s Facebook post that he felt the wind knocked out of him. Mary Pat was experiencing irregular symptoms going on in her body. She was bleeding in her stool. Mary Pat assumed it was irritable bowel syndrome. Through the urging of her family and Gary, she went to the doctor. Mary Pat was diagnosed with colon cancer.
Everything was set for Mary Pat to have surgery on February 1. Two days later, Gary’s mother, Jo Ann Holloman, was diagnosed with colon cancer too. Can you imagine having to try to be there for your mother and your wife at the same time with the same diagnosis? Can you imagine being pulled in two different directions because you want to be there for your wife, and you want to be there for your mom? Mary Pat made the decision for him. She told him she had plenty of support and for Gary to be with his mother. Be being with his mother, he was able to make lasting memories. Initially, Gary was afraid of losing his wife when she received her diagnosis, but he lost his mother to colon cancer instead.
Mrs. Holloman had no symptoms of any type of cancer, and their family had no history of cancer. Her diagnosis was a surprise because she was only exhibiting signs of anemia.She set up an appointment with her endocrinologist. Her doctor ordered a colonoscopy. There was still no sign of cancer, only the anemia. Four weeks later, her doctor still wasn’t satisfied. He ordered a more invasive scope. This scope revealed that Mrs. Holloman was in stage 4 cancer. The doctor had Gary to step out and delivered the news to him. Mrs Holloman asked Gary what the doctor said. He didn’t want to tell his mom what the doctor said about her diagnosis. She insisted that he shoot it to her straight. Gary uttered the words, ” Mom, the doctor says that you only have 6-9 months to live unless a miracle happens.” Mrs. Hollomon said “maybe, I’ll be the wrong to prove him wrong.” It was exactly 3 months from her diagnosis that Mrs. Hollomon took her last breath. She passed away May 2, 2016.
Gary said the months from February to June of 2016 was a total blur. It was filled of doctor’s appointments with his mom and making sure Mary Pat was ok. He was the only surviving child left. His brother passed away over 20+ years prior. His step-father passed away 2 years prior to his mom. He is thankful for their friends and family that stayed with Mary Pat as he was with his mother the last days of her life.
Life was going good. Mary Pat received a clean bill of health for three years. In 2019, her cancer returned. Here he was having another in sickness and in health test. He felt hopeless. All he had left was his wife and children. He begged God to please not take Mary Pat from him. Mary Pat had her ovaries removed. The doctors thought this would have her tumor level numbers back aligned. When she had her follow up appointment, her numbers were four times higher. This time, it was discovered that the cancer returned in her liver. Surgery was set at UAB March 2020. Prior to surgery, the hospital told Gary that he would be able to stay in the room with her during recovery.
On day of the surgery and after they’d taken Mary Pat to the back, they told that Gary would not be able to stay at the hospital during her recovery because of new Covid procedures. Gary wanted to pass out. He could not see her in prepping, after recovery, or even after surgery. The moment she was rolled back was the last time he would see her until she was released. UAB told Gary that he could drive back home, and they would call him each day to inform him of Mary Pat’s status. Gary did not care what the hotel fee was going to be he was not leaving Birmingham without his wife. Years prior, Gary worked in the hospitality industry. He still had friends there. They allowed him to use the friends and family discount for his stay. Due to the entire world had been shut down, there was nothing Gary could do but sit and wait. Gary said that he watched a lot of television and ate at few local restaurants that were still open. Due to the havoc and extra responsibilities of everyone in a hospital, UAB was not able to contact Gary as they’d stated. He was feeling helpless.
After being in the hospital for 6 days, Mary Pat was able to come home, but the feeling of helplessness was still there. He wanted to be strong for his family. He remembers one night he and Hayden were outside. Hayden asked was his mom going to be ok. He assured him that if it was the Lord’s will that she would. In the back of his mind, he was still wondering because he was thinking of his mother and her death. His mother was ordered chemotherapy. She was not able to take it. All she had was one round, and it put her in the hospital for one month. Mary Pat was ordered 12 rounds of chemotherapy, the same regiment his mother was on. Each round Mary Pat had, Gary wondered what if it got to the point that she could no longer take it and if it would do the same to her as it did his mom. One of his friends, Bobby Mooneyham, told Gary that because of everything he experienced with his mother he knew too much dealing with Mary Pat’s health and her recovery. He finally had a meltdown one night. He had been holding in his mother’s death for years. Mary Pat encouraged him to let it out and to seek counseling to help him through the emotions. Therapy still helps him to this day get through the hard times of life.
Each year, Mary Pat has to have test to ensure that the cancer has not returned. Gary tries to remain calm and not worry that is has returned. Even in the her moments of weakness, he could not give up nor let her give up. Gary’s faith in God and the support of family and friends have helped him endure the trying times. Sometimes, Mary Pat has questioned God why she lived and his mother did not. During a private moment before her death, Mary Pat assured Mrs. Holloman that he would take care of Gary and make sure he was ok.
Often times, couples do not make it when the sickness and health comes. Divorce is soon after. I asked Gary what advice would he give to anyone that is dealing with an illness of his/her spouse. Gary said that you have to have three people in your marriage (the couple and God). Without God, it will not survive. He said to be sure to support your spouse and to remember the vows that were taken before God. Through sickness and health. To death us do part. With God, all things are possible.
Sidenote… I went back to ask Gary more questions, and Hayden was home for spring break. It was impossible not to include him in hearing how he felt about his mother’s journey. I asked him how did he feel as his mother was going through chemotherapy and diagnosis. He said that he held it in. He did not express himself outwardly. To ease his mind, he played a lot of golf. That helped keep his mind off what was happening. Because of covid, he did not want to expose his mom to any germs and visit often. Hayden said it was very tough for him. He was not one to express his emotions until it was all over. He said that his mother’s healing and a clean bill of health was the best news that he ever received in his life. He said it was priceless. He said seeing Mary Pat ring the bell was worth it all.
The day Mary Pat rang the bell.