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Westfield couple chronicles raw realities of terminal illness

Date: 8/18/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD -- It only takes one -- one doctor's visit, one abnormal cell, one lab test, one moment that changes a person's life.

For Gary Poland and his wife Jeannie Miller-Poland of Westfield, that moment came on April 28, 2008, when Poland was diagnosed with peritoneal carcinoma. He had three to six months to live.

145 Days

Poland spent his remaining months writing an Internet blog with his wife, chronicling the horrifying realities of life with terminal cancer and the undying love, faith and morals that kept his spirit intact.

Honoring the promise she made to her husband before his death on Sept. 19, 2008, Miller-Poland compiled the blog entries into a book. "Prince Gary" was released courtesy of Ewen Prime Inc. on Tuesday, what would have been Poland's 49th birthday.

"We didn't really sugar coat anything [in the book]," Miller-Poland told Reminder Publications. "We wanted people to know the real, raw truth about what [cancer] does to your body and your family. He lost 100 pounds and there were times he lost control of bodily functions ... there were [other] things that I didn't want to talk about [in the book] but he wanted people to know [what cancer does to the body]."

Poland had won a previous battle with stomach cancer, prior to meeting his wife at a church function in 2006. He was an otherwise healthy and active man in his forties -- a certified fitness instructor, a black belt in Tae Kwan Do and a 25-year employee of Comcast.

"Now I am thinking about how saddened I am that I can't do the activities I wish to do today because of cancer," Poland wrote during the final days of his life. "We think it is nothing to hug and kiss each other but then when you can't do that because of medical conditions it really takes a toll on your mind as a man."

Miller-Poland recalled one such occurrence when her husband experienced terminal agitation, demanding to stand up even though he was physically incapable.

"I helped him stand up and all he wanted was to be able to hold me," she said. "He kissed me and we held each other for as long as he could take standing there until he had to sit back [down] again."

"I had no idea what cancer really does to you," Miller-Poland continued. "People really don't [understand] unless they know someone who goes through it. We felt we were living in a bubble -- life just keeps going and he's dying."

Miller-Poland quit both her jobs to care for her husband at their home, with assistance from her mother and Noble Visiting Nurse and Hospice of Westfield.

"They were amazing," she said of the hospice nurses. "There's no way that we could have gotten through this without out [them]. When you are in love with someone who is dying they help you [cope]."

One dollar from the sale of each book will be donated to Noble Visiting Nurse and Hospice of Westfield.

Lasting Morals

"Prince Gary," Miller-Poland explained, is also a record of their love and brief marriage as well as her struggle to watch her husband suffer and ultimately succumb to the disease. They were married only two years when Poland died.

"Sometimes when I was writing [the blog] I didn't hold back ... I was having a breakdown, seeing him suffer like that -- I was going crazy," she recalled.

"This book is not about me or about looking for any kind of sympathy -- I just promised that I would do this for him," Miller-Poland continued. "I just want him to be remembered and this was the best way that I knew how and for people to learn from [his example].

"I truly believe that [Gary and I] were put together for a reason and my daughter and I were put with him to help him die," she said. "He believed very strongly in morals and forgiveness and letting things go. He treated me amazing and my daughter learned how a man should treat a woman and how a husband should treat his wife. I was there for his last breath [and] I wouldn't change anything."

During his final days, Poland wrote, "When our lives get reduced and things get taken away from us, we seem to forget how fragile those very things are to us ... and all the things we chase in our life that we think are made out of gold ... are really made out of nothing but glitter ... cause all that glitters is not gold.

"The pain of cancer can't touch my soul," he wrote.

The After Life

Miller-Poland described life without her husband and soul mate as a daily struggle. She added that she takes comfort knowing she could fulfill his wish to have their story published.

"It has almost been a year [since] he passed away and there is not a day that goes by that I don't think about him," she said. "A lot of his things are still right where they were. I have to show my daughter that we have to live ... and he would want us to be happy. It's getting better ... I'm teaching yoga again -- life keeps moving."

Miller-Poland said above all she and her husband wanted to inspire people to "love longer, hug harder, touch softer, talk sweeter and forgive faster."

"If you feel it, say it," she said. "You don't see a U-Haul truck following a hearse. It's the people, not the stuff [that matter]."

"Prince Gary" is available through online booksellers or at