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Groton — Most of the time, John Grant looks at his wife and sees the same woman he married 30 years ago.
But sometimes, Cindy Grant grows tired fighting multiple myeloma, and he wishes he could help.
"She's the girl I married. She's everything I ever wanted," he said.
But he can do little. John Grant has progressive multiple sclerosis and has been out of work for nine years.
The Groton family's struggle has moved co-workers, friends and strangers to help, not only because they imagine Cindy Grant's pain but because they know her spirit. She worked as an emergency dispatcher in Groton for 20 years, became the sole income earner after her husband became sick. The couple raised three boys, all of whom served in the military.
"Both her and John have been very open in saying what's happening. I think that part's pretty impressive to me," said Frank Socha, a dispatcher who's known Cindy Grant for 20 years. "A lot of people become very private. The two of them are sort of role models. (They say) 'Here's what we've got, here's what we're doing, and we're going for it.' There's not a lot of down time in terms of them feeling sorry for themselves or feeling depressed."
A pasta dinner fundraiser on March 4 jammed the B.F. Hoxie firehouse in Mystic. There wasn't a free seat, and people left early so others could eat.
On May 9, dispatchers have organized Grant a Wish Night, a bingo fundraiser at Foxwoods Resort Casino for the family.
Doors open at 4 p.m., games start at 6:30 p.m. and tickets are $15 for general admission. Tickets are available at Groton Fire Alarm at the town police station or through Glen Riffe at GRiffe@Groton-ct.gov.
The New London Motorcycle Club also has stepped in to help. About two months ago, the club sent 20 people to the couple's duplex, which it had used as a single-family home, and rebuilt the separating wall so the family could rent an apartment and bring in income.
Cindy Grant continued to work 12-hour shifts while undergoing chemotherapy until two weeks ago.
"How she's been doing it, I don't know," John Grant said.
She's using her sick time now, then will go on short-term disability.
Grant found out she had cancer on Thanksgiving. She wasn't officially diagnosed until early December, but she said she knew before then, even if she didn't know what kind it was.
The couple had to traveled to Virginia to visit their oldest son for the holiday, and Grant said on Thanksgiving morning, she woke up feeling like she was going to pass out. Her chest hurt, her back hurt and she felt lightheaded, she said.
John Grant brought his wife to the emergency room.
Doctors drew blood, took a chest X-ray, then ordered a CAT scan. They returned and told Cindy Grant they'd found pneumonia, lesions on her spine, and asked if she'd ever had cancer before, or if anyone in her family had cancer. Then they came back with morphine, which she didn't want, she said.
They never said the word "oncologist," but it didn't matter.
"They can give you hints and you can see it in their eyes," John Grant said. "And my wife knew." She told him she thought she had cancer and he told her not to think like that. Then he said he walked outside and lost it, crying.
Cindy Grant said she lay in the hospital bed not crying. She knew what they'd told her, but she felt like she just had pneumonia.
"It felt like it wasn't happening," she said.
Then the couple left the hospital and went home. Thanksgiving dinner was almost ready.
When Cindy Grant saw her son, she said she broke down, though she didn't tell him right away. She waited until later that evening.
They left for home early, drove nine hours from Virginia to Connecticut, and cried most of the way, John Grant said.
By Monday, they were back at the doctor and he ordered more tests. He told Grant the name of her diagnosis as soon as results were back, but Cindy Grant said Dec. 5 is etched in her brain, because it was her first appointment with an oncologist.
Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer in which the body makes the same plasma over and over. It may affect the bones, kidneys, red blood cells, the immune system or all. It's treatable, but not curable. Grant has been through five cycles of chemotherapy and eight rounds of radiation to her back. The radiation stopped the tumors from progressing and took away much of the pain. But the chemotherapy is exhausting, she said.
The next step in her treatment is a procedure at Yale Medical Center, where doctors will harvest her own stem cells, give her a large dose of chemotherapy to kill the bone marrow in her body, then reintroduce the stem cells to try to put the illness into remission.
The process, which includes drugs to make her body mass produce stem cells, begins May 3.
Grant said so many people have helped her.
"There have been so many people that have stepped up to help us. It's amazing. It's overwhelming," she said. Her co-workers take turns bringing the couple dinner. One visits and cleans the house.
Two of the Grants' three sons are visiting at the moment.
John, 30, serves in the U.S. Air Force. Adam, 26, just ended his service with the U.S. Marines, completing two tours in Afghanistan. Nicholas serves in the U.S. Navy.
John Grant was never in the military, but his father was, and was stationed in Groton.
The couple has three grandchildren.
A fund has been set up to help the Grant family. To make a donation, write to: The Cindy Grant Fund, c/o Groton Dispatch Center, 68 Groton Long Point Road, Groton, CT, 06340.