April 08, 2020

Couple say love helped them through simultaneous cancer battles

PORTLAND – Portland City Manager Joe Gray and his wife, Marie, credit their solid, loving relationship over 36 years of marriage with helping them both beat cancer earlier this year.

Joe Gray was diagnosed in February with colon cancer; Marie learned two weeks later that she had breast cancer.

One in six couples can expect that each partner will have some form of cancer during their lives, said Donn Young, a biostatistician at Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. One in 2,500 male-female couples faces the risk of the woman getting breast cancer and the man getting colon cancer by their early 60s.

The Grays, who both underwent surgery at Mercy Hospital and are now cancer-free, say the strength of their relationship helped them through the ordeal.

“When you’re married for 36 years, you know each other. You depend on each other. You know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. There wasn’t any point where I thought we wouldn’t get through it,” said Marie Gray, 61.

The couple said they elected to speak out about their experience to encourage others to understand the importance of having regular tests and to get quick treatment if cancer is discovered.

“They say the best protection is early detection, and it really is,” Marie Gray said.

Joe Gray’s cancer was discovered during a colonoscopy. His wife got the news after having her regular mammogram.

The couple coordinated their surgeries and treatments around the demands of Joe’s high-profile job and the comparative severity of their diagnoses.

Joe Gray said his doctor told him his surgery could be delayed a few weeks, while Marie Gray’s doctor said her diagnosis was more serious and surgery couldn’t wait.

She had a lumpectomy in early March, followed by four sessions of chemotherapy over nine weeks and daily radiation treatments for seven weeks. During that time, she took occasional time off but never completely stopped working as regional director of program development for the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Joe Gray had a cancerous polyp and about a foot of his colon removed in early April.

The Grays became familiar faces at the hospital during their recovery and treatment. At one point, he was in a room at one end of the hall, and she was at the other end having blood drawn as part of her chemotherapy.

“I knew he was getting better when he asked for the (City Council) agenda packet,” Marie Gray said.

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