Each day, Anthony Lewis Jr. showed up at the convenience store under the guise of purchasing a lottery ticket. He bought the tickets, but his real interest was in the woman behind the counter – an old high school classmate he was working up the nerve to ask out.
The warm-hearted cashier finally let Lewis off the hook by asking him out, and since their first date six years ago he and Jennifer have seldom been apart. They often talked about getting married, but were always too busy at work or too short on funds. Further complicating matters was Lewis’ stage IV metastatic cholangiocarcinoma cancer (also known as bile duct cancer), for which he received ongoing treatment at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center at Milford Regional Medical Center.
Then, this October, everything changed. The couple, both 44, learned that Lewis’ cancer was reaching a terminal stage, and he would need to make plans for hospice care. In a separate meeting with Jennifer Grant, Dana-Farber social worker Mellissa Rearick, MSW, LICSW, asked if there was anything that her boyfriend had always wanted to do. “Get married,” she said. “We were waiting for him to get better, and now it can never happen.”
Rearick then said, “We can do this. We can get you and Anthony married.”
Things moved quickly from there. Rearick told Lewis about the conversation, and he called Grant in the morning from his hospital bed to propose. She said yes, and the couple who once couldn’t make time for a wedding set a date for the very next day.
Rearick teamed up with Cheryl Mitchell, MSW, LCSW, Lewis’ inpatient social worker during his frequent stays at Milford Regional Medical Center, to handle the details. A bakery prepared a gluten-free wedding cake overnight that met Lewis’ dietary restrictions. A local jeweler donated rings. Notarized letters from Lewis’ oncologist Natalie Sinclair, MD, and Milford Regional’s chaplain, minister Thomas Landry, enabled Grant to pick up their marriage license without the usual three-day wait. Invitations went out by phone and email to caregivers and a small group of family members.
“When Mellissa asked me what I wanted to wear, I was torn,” says now-Jennifer Lewis. “Places were willing to donate a veil and dress, and it would have been wonderful to look super-special for my soulmate. But Anthony was feeling very sick, and I knew pajamas were best for him. I wanted to be equally comfortable.”
On Oct. 18, under a sunny sky in the tranquil garden of Milford Regional Medical Center, Jennifer and Anthony said “I do.” The bride wore jeans and a casual shirt.
“What was important was the union, and the ceremony,” says Anthony Lewis. “She looked like herself – beautiful.”
Did Jennifer miss not having a traditional veil and dress?
“Not at all,” she says. “Father Landry said the connection that Anthony and I have is what marriage should always be about. It was hard for us to stop sneaking in kisses during the ceremony, because it was one of the happiest moments we could ever think of.”
Now the couple that used to meet for lunch in the middle of each work day is spending all their time together as husband and wife. Anthony is home from the hospital, and receives daily visits from a hospice nurse arranged through Dana-Farber Milford. Rearick and Sinclair text and call regularly; Jennifer’s adult son, Cameron, comes by for help and hugs.
“Days are spent loving each other unconditionally, cherishing every moment together, and cuddling with our sweet hound mix, Chief Brody,” says Jennifer Lewis. “We are so lucky that we found each other, and are thankful for every minute and second we have — and for what everybody did to make our wedding happen.
“Our message is this: Don’t take your loved ones for granted, and don’t let a day go by without telling them how you feel.”
No wonder Anthony jokes that Jennifer is “still out of my league.” He got that winning lottery ticket after all.
Editor’s Note: Anthony Lewis died December 9, with his wife by his side.