Inspired by Care: Cathy & Ron Gross

Diagnosed in 1998 with a small tumor in her left breast, Cathy Gross was determined to aggressively treat her cancer. She elected to have a mastectomy and a lymph node dissection. “She wanted everything – the surgery, chemotherapy and radiation,” remembers her husband, Ron Gross, MD, who was then part of the Trauma and Critical Care section of the Surgery Department at Bridgeport Hospital.

They took every precaution to beat Cathy’s cancer, but in 2002, tests revealed more.

Throughout her treatment, Cathy laughed, smiled and never complained, Ron remembers. She considered her caregivers at Bridgeport Hospital’s Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center to be among her closest friends, and she volunteered at the Center’s Fairfield office in her spare time. “She wanted to be with the people who understood best what she was going through,” Ron says. “They provided support, love and care, and helped her deal with what she had to handle.”

Over time, Cathy lost her hair, her muscle strength, her vision in one eye and her ability to walk. But her loving, caring spirit never wavered, nor did her devotion to Ron, their son, Cal, and the family dog, Nathan. In May 2002, despite her weakened body, she and Ron attended Cal’s graduation from Boston College.

About a week later, just a few hours before she died, Cathy gently woke Ron at 3 a.m. “You need to listen to me very carefully,” she told him. “This is why: You need to make me three promises.” Ron listened intently to his dying wife’s words.

“One, promise me you will always take care of Cal,” she said. “Of course,” answered Ron. “Two,” she continued, “promise me you will keep Nathan, because he’s going to need you and you’re going to need him.” “Okay,” said Ron. “And three,” she concluded, “this is important. Promise me you’ll wait a year, and then promise me you’ll find someone with whom you can spend the rest of your life. Now please turn up the morphine.” Two hours later, Cathy, at age 48, passed away.

As the next year progressed, life lumbered on. Summer came, fall succumbed to winter, and spring – with its hope amidst memories – arrived again. Ron, a member of the Army Reserve, was called to serve in Iraq with a forward surgical team. While there for several months, his good friend, Joann, took care of Nathan. Over time, the friendship between Ron and Joann deepened. When Ron told Cal he was considering proposing to Joann, Cal responded, “You know Mom sent her to us.” Ron agreed.

“The Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center – the doctors, nurses, staff and services – was at the center of our lives in Cathy’s last three months,” says Ron. “We received so much more than we gave. For that, I will continue to donate to them for the rest of my life.” Today, Joann joins in this support, which includes aiding in the sponsorship of the annual Rose of Hope Luncheon.

Six years ago, Ron established a lecture series in Cathy’s name at Hartford Hospital. (Ron joined Hartford Hospital in 2001 as Associate Director of Traumatology.) Every program includes a tribute from Cathy’s former nurse, Sally Cascella, RN, Senior Nurse Educator at The Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center: “She is like a pebble that hits the surface in a quiet pond,” it reads. “She is no longer seen, but her ripples keep going forever, touching everyone and everything in the pond. She gave all she had to those she knew and loved, and will do so forever.”