The Greatest Blessing of All

 

JAMES GOOCH AND HIS
WIFE, TINA, CELEBRATE LIFE TOGETHER EVERY DAY IN THE WAKE OF MEDICAL STRUGGLES

by AMBER SMITH ZALISKI  

 
James & Tina cover photo.jpg

It was a December night 24 years ago when Tina Veal reluctantly met some friends at Fat Jack’s. “It had been such a day, and I was doing my best to stay miserable,” she said, “and then some guy in the bar walked by and growled at me.” Before she could really tell him what she thought, a friend grabbed her arm and said, “Tina, you better be nice to Gooch! We love him!”

As Tina looks over at her husband, James Gooch, he gives her a little shrug and a knowing smirk. Tina remembers their first kiss, on that same December night, and her sudden, newfound belief in the butterflies and the love-at-first-kiss stories. “I always thought those stories were crazy, until James kissed me that night, and I just knew that this was the man I would marry.”

After a short courtship and engagement, James and Tina married the next year in Austin and set about building a life together in their green Craftsman home in the historic district of Texarkana. They have celebrated many successes, and, as all couples who share a life will, they have faced their fair share of struggles. James and Tina agree that it has been their faith, family, and friends that have kept their hearts full and their eyes open to the miracles found every day.

It’s difficult to share a story so personal, but James and Tina believe that if their testimony can help just one person, it is worth sharing. “If something doesn’t feel right, you need to get it checked out,” James said. “Even if it’s embarrassing or uncomfortable – sometimes it can save your life.”

In July of 2013, James returned home from a deep sea fishing trip and knew something wasn’t right. The sudden discomfort in his testicle he hoped was from chaffing, or sleeping in a weird position, or driving, or anything. At Tina’s urging he went to his doctor, and ultrasounds confirmed the worst. James was diagnosed with embryonal germ cell testicular cancer, an aggressive cancer that doubles in size every 30 days. “From there, I met with my urologist who said basically, ‘We have to remove it,’” James said. “As is turned out, the cancer was completely contained in the teste and the lymph nodes, so once it was removed, I went on the cancer protocol for three years.”

During those years, James went for regular scans and tests to make sure there was no sign of the cancer returning. With each appointment, he moved further and further away from cancer, and in December of 2016, he was given the official “all clear.” “Cancer is such a scary word, no matter what,” Tina said. “So we sort of felt like we had gotten lucky through this experience.”

  Tina and James in the Texas State Capitol Senate Chambers in Austin, Texas, on their wedding day, November 10, 1995.

Tina and James in the Texas State Capitol Senate Chambers in Austin, Texas, on their wedding day, November 10, 1995.

With James healthy, Tina finally had to face her own health issue head-on. For many years Tina had been experiencing atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter, heart conditions that caused her to have an extremely fast and irregular heart rate. “I was adamant that no one was going to lay me on a table and stop my heart,” Tina said. “It just was not something I was willing to do for a long time.” When medication no longer controlled her conditions, and Tina was exhausted from days where her heart rate would reach up to 200 beats per minute, she agreed to have the ablation surgery. “I finally just felt at peace with the decision. Looking back, I really feel like God granted that peace because I needed to be strong for what was ahead.”
It was February of 2017. Tina went in for her procedure on a Friday, and by Monday, she remembers how much better she already felt. “It was one of those things where you finally realize how bad you felt before,” she said. “I had so much energy back, and people kept telling me how much better I looked, my color was better. It turned out to be the best thing I could have done.”

In the early spring of 2017, James began to notice some discomfort in his lower abdomen. Not one to brush off random symptoms now and hope they’ll disappear, he went in, had the tests, and again received shattering news. “Ultrasounds showed a 7x8x9 centimeter mass in the retroperitoneal area,” James said. “We went for a consult at MD Anderson a couple weeks later, and they put me in a room that night to start chemotherapy.” The aggressive tumor had already reached 12 cm in the weeks since the last scan. “It was overwhelming, and we were not prepared for that, but we received so much support and so many prayers throughout the entire process. That made such a difference in being able to stay positive and keep going.”

  Tina wished James safe travels in 1995 as he prepared to fly from Texarkana to Indiana to do volunteer work at Champ Camp. This camp gives children with tracheostomies and those requiring respiratory assistance the chance to experience a true away from home overnight camp opportunity for one week each summer.

Tina wished James safe travels in 1995 as he prepared to fly from Texarkana to Indiana to do volunteer work at Champ Camp. This camp gives children with tracheostomies and those requiring respiratory assistance the chance to experience a true away from home overnight camp opportunity for one week each summer.

James underwent chemotherapy treatments for five nights in a row once a month for four months. While the tumor was considerably smaller, it was still too large to simply observe, and surgery was the only option. “My job is to get you more life,” James remembers his surgeon telling him. On August 21, James went in for a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection surgery, a long and sometimes difficult procedure requiring an incision that runs the length of the torso, while Tina spent the day in the waiting room. “We can’t say enough good things about MD Anderson and the phenomenal medical team we had,” she said. “It is an amazing place. Looking around the waiting room, there was every nationality, age, social class, and we all had the exact same look of worry, and fear, and hope on our faces.”

Over a year later, James continues to receive the “all clear” at each scan and remains thankful for each day. Last November for their anniversary, James and Tina went camping together. “It was so good to just relax together,” James said. “The skies were a little bluer, and the birds sang a little louder for us it seemed. An experience like this is so humbling. It really teaches you the value of life, and your friendships, your relationships.”

  Four years ago, Tina and James adopted their “Goochie Girls” named “Scout” and “Willow.”

Four years ago, Tina and James adopted their “Goochie Girls” named “Scout” and “Willow.”

This year, James and Tina spent their anniversary back in Austin. No matter where they are or what they are doing, James and Tina feel blessed to be doing it side by side. “He still makes me giggle,” Tina said. “I think we live life a little differently now, with a little more passion. If you get the chance to experience this life with your soul mate, no matter how long you get, that is the greatest blessing of all.”