They met on Fifth Avenue in New York. He was fumbling around with blueprints. Completely unaware of his surroundings - while trying to rein in the haphazard sheets of paper - he ran smack dab into her. Actually, the tall stranger knocked her on her duff. A self-described "typical New Yorker," when he offered her a hand back up, she huffed and puffed, gave him a good piece of her mind, turned on her high heel and marched away to her office.
"In retrospect, he was so taken aback he knocked me flat, and I was just super mad," Joanne Padgett said.
A rose is never just a rose
Two days later, Joanne found something on her work desk.
"There were 11 pink roses," she recalled. "From the guy who knocked me down."
There was an apology note.
"So now, not only was he blind, but he couldn't count," Joanne thought at the time.
She also thought he might be some weirdo stalker.
Her Aunt convinced her to give the guy a break and call him. She did and they made plans to meet at a local restaurant.
When she arrived Raymond stood up immediately, decked out in a classy three-piece suit. In his hand was a single white rose.
"The first 11 pink roses were to apologize for knocking you down, but this white rose is with the hope that I can win your heart," he said.
Polar opposites. She - vivacious, voluptuous, young, effusive. He - tall, angular, restrained, older.
It took three years on bended knee. But, for some reason they complimented each other beautifully. She finally said yes. And, it simply worked. In fact, they were married three times. Once at a justice of the peace, and two subsequent times for their respective families. They were deeply in love for 13 years. He finally retired and managed her successful writing career. She flourished while he supported her ambitious endeavors.
Then, there were no more roses. No more repeated vows, business trips or romantic getaways.
Raymond Padgett died in 2015 after a valiant fight against esophageal cancer.
Cancer is never just cancer
A cancer survivor herself, Joanne stood by his side through it all as caregiver. From life partner, lover, business partner, and wife, Joanne turned into loving nurse and proactive knowledge seeker in an attempt to save his life.
The Padgett's lives changed forever that fateful day when the doctors told her to come to the hospital after Raymond was tested for days.
"I walked into the room and he was lying on the bed crying," she said quietly. "I knew it wasn't as simple as gallstones. I knew at that moment something was terribly, terribly wrong. There were too many doctors in the same room."
"Your husband has stage three esophageal cancer."
Joanne said the symptoms her husband experienced were "so subtle, but consistent."
He had recurring headaches and stomach aches," she explained. "Most people take some aspirin and Pepto-Bismol and forget about it. That's what Raymond did."
But, over-the-counter meds were a thing of the past after the diagnosis. For 13 months Raymond put up a good fight, some of his weapons included chemo and radiation.
"It just got worse and spread all over," Joanne said.
Toward the end, when all was said and done, Joanne knew it was time for them to go away together and live out the end time in peace. She booked a place and a couple days before their departure Raymond insisted he wanted some pudding. She told him there was Jell-O, or rice?
"He insisted," she said. "He knew. He didn't want me to be there when it happened."
She was gone only 15 minutes. When she got back with the pudding, it was over.
A rose for hope in fight against cancer
Anyone who knows Joanne knows there's no way she will let Raymond die in vain. While author of the fiction series Vampires of Camelot, today Joanne is making business more personal and a lot more realistic. She's changing direction from published author to leader in the launch of a new not-for-profit, Cancer's Journey. Her new organization will help cancer fighters nationwide and support clinical research to find cures for all forms of cancer.
Joanne said her motivation came to her in a dream four days after Raymond died where he "spoke" to her and "told me what I needed to do."
"He told me he had to go and it was part of the bigger plan so I could be a frontrunner for the fight against cancer and be able to provide people with the ability to not go through their journey alone," she said.
She said esophageal cancer is one of the "ugly, hidden," cancers nobody really talks about.
"Although several forms of cancers are well-publicized, the more rare forms, like my husband's, liver cancer, gastric cancer and kidney cancer are harder to detect because the symptoms can vary and information is not readily available."
Padgett's organization is geared to creating an online community where cancer fighters can learn about various forms of cancer and find the support and encouragement they need in their fight.
"Our site and organization will be less clinical and more organic," she explained. "We want to help people while also supporting cancer-focused organizations like St. Jude Children's Hospital, Sarah Cannon Cancer center and the American Cancer society in finding cures for all forms of cancer."
She's filing for a 501C status, building a board of directors and designing an interactive website. Already she has a nurse and minister on the Board, with others in the wings.
The true story of cancer
Along with producing an album with songs she wrote during Raymond's fight, Joanne is writing Cancer's Journey: A Walk Less Traveled.
"It's a bio pic of my experience with cancer; as not only a victim, but also as a caregiver," she said. "You will be able to feel the true side of both, and the different perspectives. I am writing this to share our story and to give hope to others. To help them find the strength to fight and be in support of Cancer's Journey."
Joanne said she learned knowledge is power.
"I want people to know we will fight with them, and we will lend support and knowledge that will give them tools to beat this terrible disease," she said. "I will never give up on making cancer a thing of the past."
11 Roses is the name of her upcoming CD.
"Every song has meaning and a message," she said. "The style is eclectic. As far as my favorite, it would have to be all of them."
Some heavy hitters have expressed desire to sing on the album.
Both the CD and book will launch 2017.
Cancer's Journey launch
This new journey for Joanne will launch with a Masquerade Ball on Oct. 22 at 6:30 p.m., just in time for the Halloween holiday. It will be at The Mitchell House in Lebanon. She said the event will be a celebration of Raymond's life, in full costumes, and she will discuss her new project Cancer's Journey. The event will include light hors d'oeuvres, spirits and a performance by the Vamperettes. She will also reveal she's shelving her book series until 2020 to concentrate fully on the non-profit, book and album. Most likely at some point in the celebration, she will wear her eye catching "vampire" costume, a full-on red wig, makeup and even vampire teeth. It's the same outfit she'd where to promotional events for her series. Raymond, quiet and serious alongside, would just watch her and smile.
Memories of a white rose
And while reliving and retelling Raymond's cancer journey is heart-wrenching at times, it's also somehow cathartic for this grieving wife who is too young to be a widow.
"I know he's proud of me," she said softly. "He knows I'm a strong woman hell bent on living out his legacy. I will celebrate our life, until we meet again."
It was bitter sweet in April in LA when Joanne walked the red carpet, alone, to accept "Best Short Film" for "Unrequited Love," a film she and Raymond made together based on her series.
"It's hard for me to watch," she said.
Raymond's fingerprints are all over the film.
"We made each other whole," she said. "Now, I'm half a whole."
To get tickets to the ball, go to Eventbrite.com; The Vampires of Camelot Masquerade Ball.
Writer Laurie Everett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org