‘Joey’s Angels’ bring Kent woman hope

They called themselves Joey’s Angels.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Saturday, August 2, 2008 12:00am
  • News
Nell Gates of Centerville

Nell Gates of Centerville

Friends, family build a garden of love

They called themselves Joey’s Angels.

In one weekend, the friends and family of terminal cancer patient Joey Brothers transformed Joey’s backyard into a fairy-tale rose garden.

Joey, of Kent, didn’t know anything about the garden, until she returned from a two-day trip to the seaside with her sister, Judi Mutal.

“I had absolutely no idea,” Joey said, during a surprise party with her “angels” July 22. “I have dreamed of a rose garden for so long.”

The garden in back of the Brothers’ Kent home has 23 newly planted rose bushes, each with a story behind it. A showy Peach Belle rose came from Nordstrom, Joey’s former employer. Next-door neighbor Jonalyn Hermans picked out the deep-red blooming Mister Lincoln rose trees flanking the garden’s arbor. Another friend hunted down a peach-colored rose called “Just Joey.” It bloomed for the first time the day of Joey’s party.

Along with the roses, the garden has a central heart-shaped grassy area, with a wrought-iron arbor behind it, and a white picket fence behind that. A crushed-stone path, bordered by bricks, winds from the base of the heart up to the back porch. A bench and a handmade “Joey’s Rose Garden” sign sit to the left of the path. A birdbath and another wooden bench nestle among the roses on the right.

The project was “just a small idea” that turned into something big, said Joey’s friend Jonalyn Hermans, who first suggested the rose garden. Hermans, together with Mutal, did most of the organizing work for the project.

Mutal said she sent out an e-mail a couple weeks ago to 65 friends and family members, asking for help with the surprise.

“Nearly everyone responded,” said Mutal. Checks, rose plants and offers to help came pouring in from as far away as Iowa.

At the party, Mutal said she’d received $1,465 in contributions toward the garden, and checks were still coming in. The money covered the cost of new topsoil, wood chips, the arbor, birdbath, bench and picket fence, as well as some of the rose plants.

Those who didn’t send money brought roses, or else helped dig, plant and create the garden.

Much of the hard labor was done by Joey’s cousin-in-law, Dale Schneider, of Tukwila-based building company Scheider Homes. Scheider brought the company’s compact track loader out on July 18 to clear the ground and remove a huge tree stump from the middle of the yard. The next day, he worked all day, laying bricks for the path, helping to lower the sides of the back porch and install a railing to make it easier for Joey to see and get to the garden.

“He didn’t go home Saturday till 6 or 7 p.m.,” said Nell Gates, a longtime friend of Joey’s, who was at the party.

Gates herself had come a bit out of her way to help. She lives in Centerville, Iowa, but flew in Friday night to join in the work. The trip wasn’t entirely a spur-of-the-moment decision, though, she said. She’d already been planning to come this month to say a last goodbye to Joey.

“We’ve had an agreement that, when it was time for me to come, (Joey) would call me. She called June 20,” Gates said, adding that once the garden project popped up, she’d modified her plans to come in early.

Four months to live

June 20 was about the time Joey learned that the cancer she’s been battling for 12 years had finally won. Doctors told her she has an inoperable brain tumor; they gave her about four months to live.

“She has hopes of four to six,” said Joey’s husband, Ron.

Joey was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996. She went through a masectomy and chemotherapy, and the cancer went into remission. It showed up again in 2003, this time in her lungs. The doctors gave her a five- to seven-year life expectancy at that point.

That’s when the continuous rounds of chemotherapy started. But the cancer continued to spread, first to her liver, and then to her brain. A brain tumor showed up last year. Surgery and radiation appeared to kill it off, but last month it reappeared, and this time, aggressively. There was no way to stop it, the doctors told her.

“They took her off all chemo, because it’s not going to do any good,” Ron said. “What she’s running on now is steroids.”

Joey is 58.

Journey of hope

There’s another side to Joey’s cancer story — one that her husband, sister and friends all were eager to tell.

After Joey was first diagnosed with breast cancer, she started making cloth dolls to sell to raise funds for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which functions to raise awareness and funding for breast-cancer research. Instead of hair, the dolls had handkerchiefs tied around their heads, symbolic of cancer patients.

Joey sold the dolls to coworkers at Nordstrom, then expanded to selling at fairs and over the Internet, under the business name of Pink Bow Productions (www.pinkbow.com).

Then her sister, Mutal, sparked in Joey the idea of making bracelets for sale.

Mutal made the first bracelet as a gift for Joey — it spelled out the word “HOPE” in silver block beads.

“(Joey) took one look at that bracelet and said, ‘We can sell these,’” Mutal recounted.

So the two sisters started making bracelets, and Joey sold them to coworkers. Eventually they piqued enough interest that the company approached Joey and offered to sell the bracelets through Nordstrom nationwide. After a couple test runs with smaller batches, the company ordered 4,000 bracelets to sell across the country. It took a lot of help from their friends, and several beading parties, but the sisters delivered all 4,000, and made a trip to Europe together that year, too.

Largely thanks to proceeds from the bracelet sales, the sisters were able to present a $20,000 check to the Susan G. Komen Foundation in November 2003.

Mutal estimated that Joey has donated about $30,000 towards breast-cancer research from her doll and jewelry sales.

Many of the friends who helped make those bracelets were sitting around the back porch table with Joey on July 22, reminiscing. Everyone around the petite, beloved woman wore sparkling tulle or decorative-wire haloes, supplied by a friend for the occasion.

As one of them put it, “Today, we’re Joey’s angels.”


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