Debra Bradley and Gary Gross did all the usual things all couples do.
They went to wine tastings together, watched plays, attended concerts and planned casual dinners with friends. But when their sunny world was dimmed by a tragic discovery last March, Bradley and Gross defied the odds and found the meaning of true love, which they believe gave them the strength to persevere.
In March 2016, Bradley got the shocking news that she was diagnosed with what experts call the most lethal form of cancer — stage-four pancreatic cancer — and that it had already spread to her liver.
“I couldn’t have been more shocked, and like everybody that hears the cancer word, you’re terrified at first. And then, when it’s paired with pancreatic, you suddenly have this very bleak outlook,” Bradley said.
The next day, the couple scheduled several appointments with oncologists, desperate to find an effective treatment. As the doctors handed Bradley the devastating news, she looked at Gross and said: “I don’t think I can do this. I don’t see how I can ever go through this. I can’t do this alone.”
But Gross had a surprising response: “You’re never going to.”
“I got down on one knee and said, ‘Will you marry me?'” Gross said. “I don’t know what I had in my hand — it wasn’t a ring. It might have been a rubber band. I don’t remember.”
They couple had already talked about getting married at some point but decided not to wait.
After vowing to love each other in sickness and in health at their wedding, which was conducted by a justice of the peace, the couple made their way to the Emory Winship Cancer Institute.
Refusing to accept their bleak prognosis, the couple met with renowned oncologist Bassel El-Rayes.
El-Rayes proposed a recently developed treatment — an experimental trial to test a new drug called BBI-608. While regular chemotherapy treatments solely shrink a tumor, there was a possibility that the new drug could essentially thwart the cancer cells from multiplying.
Bradley is currently cancer free, and she said she owes her success to the man she calls her “knight in shining armor.”
“I would have never been able to get through it if it had not been for him,” Bradley said.
Although the initial diagnosis, combined with the experimental treatment, may have been a long, hard trek, Bradley said she believed she discovered the meaning of true love along the way.
“You find out what real love is all about when your life is turned upside down and your Saturdays and Sundays consist of holding your wife’s head out of the toilet,” she said. “When you no longer look like you did on the day that you met — you’re always sick, you’ve lost 17 pounds, your clothes don’t fit, and yet he still says you’re beautiful.”
The couple are looking forward to their trip to Paris, which Gross surprised Bradley with to celebrate their commitment.
On a Valentine’s Day they weren’t sure they’d get to spend together, the couple has a message: “Love gives you hope when things are their darkest. It gives you something to hold on to. It gives you something to look forward to.”