A declaration of optimism

Published 9:47 pm Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Vanessa and Gerald Williams sit on a bench in their Harbour View backyard, where they are holding a Fourth of July party to raise money for victims of brain cancer, which afflicts Gerald Williams.

Vanessa and Gerald Williams sit on a bench in their Harbour View backyard, where they are holding a Fourth of July party to raise money for victims of brain cancer, which afflicts Gerald Williams.

Two years ago, Vanessa and Gerald Williams were planning how to spend their Fourth of July.

In the cards were grilling and relaxing in their Harbour View backyard.

The day arrived, and Vanessa Williams found her husband, who’d been cutting the grass while she was inside, in their garage seizing.

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At the emergency room across Harbour View Boulevard, the attending physician had startling news for Vanessa Williams. Her husband had seized so violently that both shoulders were fractured and dislocated.

It didn’t stop there. A CT scan revealed a brain tumor. Before he was transferred to the Navy Medical Center in Portsmouth, his wife, the attending physician and Vanessa and Gerald Williams’ pastor held hands and prayed over the retired U.S. Army major.

The past two years have been trying at best, but they’ve remained positive, Vanessa Williams said, determined to enjoy however much time they have left together as much as possible.

For his shoulders to mend, Gerald Williams was in a brace for two months. A biopsy diagnosed the tumor as grade 3 astrocytoma — a type of brain cancer.

He’s had the best of care, Vanessa Williams said, treated at Duke University Medical Center by Dr. Allan H. Friedman, who treated Sen. Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy during his brain cancer battle.

The tumor was located where its removal would have unacceptably impacted Gerald Williams’ quality of life, Vanessa Williams said. But in December 2014, after 33 rounds of radiation therapy, it was decided that something had to be done — the tumor had grown too large.

The next month’s surgery was deemed a success. But six weeks later, an MRI revealed more growth. And the tumor had morphed into a grade 4 glioblastoma.

Gerald Williams is currently on his fourth round of chemotherapy. Vanessa Williams said they wanted to get him on a trial at Duke, but he’s ineligible, because he’s already had side effects the trial would cause.

“The cancer is very aggressive, but we are staying positive,” Vanessa Williams said. “We have said from the very beginning that we’ll get through this with prayer, communication and keeping positive people in our circle, and that’s what we are doing.”

With Tricare Prime medical insurance, Vanessa and Gerald Williams have not had to worry about the expense of treatment. “But going down to Duke and hearing stories about how much this is costing (other people), we wanted to help someone else,” Vanessa Williams said.

For 2014’s Fourth of July, the couple invited more than 80 people to their home, calling the party Gerald’s Celebration of Life.

They’re doing it again this Saturday, only now they’ve teamed up with an organization called Voices Against Brain Cancer, and the party will raise money to help others with brain cancer and their caregivers.

Everyone’s invited, Vanessa Williams said, adding, “I’m asking people to give whatever is in their heart. We’ve been having people give between $25 and $500.”

The gathering at 5039 South Links Circle will run from 4 to 9 p.m. There will be a band, a professional comedian, good food and fun. The Williams’ neighbors on both sides are joining to create one big backyard running down to a tributary of the Nansemond River.

Guest are asked to wear all white, with the opportunity to walk the “gray carpet” and be snapped by a professional photographer.

“It’s just going to be about having a good time and celebrating life,” Vanessa Williams said.

RSVP via cvmwms1@gmail.com or 532-6328, Williams said, or just show up and give a donation.