Feature: Nick Gorneault's Wife Got A Clutch Save From Terry Francona
Feb. 15, 2011
Nick and Jami Gorneault of Springfield celebrated Valentine's Day by going out for a quiet dinner together.
Their romantic interlude came the night before Nick leaves for Florida to begin his job as a baseball scout for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It's a new venture for him after 10 years as a professional baseball player. He'll be in Florida during spring break, scouting college teams from his assigned territory, the northeast.
Jami, who works as a nanny, won't accompany Nick to Florida, but she might join him for a few days during his time there.
The Gorneaults have been married since January of 2008. Whenever they are apart, they remain close in spirit, bonded by their love and by Jami's resolute recovery from a dreaded disease - skin cancer.
She is a survivor, now cancer-free for 18 months. Her surgery on June 21, 2009, took place at Brigham and Women's Hospital, part of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's network.
Her ensuing five months of immunotherapy treatments took place at Dana-Farber, located on Boston's Longwood Avenue, only a line drive away from Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox.
The Red Sox and their manager, Terry Francona, have a lot to do with the Gorneaults, and their long, hard road back from that dark day in May of 2009 when Jami first felt a lump in her left armpit.
It was a grim reminder of what she had gone through in 2005, when she had treatments for melanoma on her lower back, which she thought made her cancer-free.
She quickly went for a checkup, and got results that left her "shocked and scared."
When Gorneault heard the awful news of Jami's diagnosis - Stage 3 melanoma skin cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes - he was playing for the Manchester Fisher Cats, a Double-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. Their game that night happened to be against Portland, a Red Sox farm club. It was a bit of scheduling luck that would prove to be important to Jami's treatment and recovery.
Nick's manager, Gary Cathcart, was well aware of cancer's devastating impact. He had lost his mother to breast cancer in 2004.
With the blessing of Toronto's minor league department, Cathcart put Nick on a plane to Phoenix, where Jami was visiting friends from her college days at Grand Canyon University. It was while she was in Phoenix that she first felt the lump under her armpit after working out at a health club.
Cathcart then told Arnie Beyeler, the Portland manager, about Jami's diagnosis. Beyeler immediately called Francona, a champion of the Jimmy Fund, Dana-Farber's chief fund-raising effort which has been supported by the Red Sox for 65 years.
Francona took it from there. Soon after Nick arrived in Phoenix, he got a call from the Red Sox manager, who put him in touch with his long-time friend, Mike Andrews. This former infielder for the "Impossible Dream" Red Sox of 1967 has directed the Jimmy Fund since 1984.
Andrews arranged everything needed for Jami's surgery, and the treatments that would follow at Dana-Farber.
"It's not like we got any special privileges. It's just that Terry directed us on the right path at a time when we were both very distraught, not knowing what to do, where to turn," Gorneault said.
Like Manchester manager Cathcart, Francona is all too familiar with what cancer can do to individuals and the people around them. The wives of two of his players, Dustin Pedroia and the retired Curt Schilling, are skin-cancer survivors. One of his star pitchers, Jon Lester, in 2006 went through a long bout with a treatable case of non-Hodgkin's anaplastic large-cell lymphoma.
"I know Terry has a strong connection with Dana-Farber," Gorneault said. "I called to thank him. I had to leave a message, and he called me right back. It's been that way ever since. He asked me to stay in contact, to keep him informed about Jami's progress. Every time I call, if I don't get him, he calls me back."
The Gorneaults have a deep appreciation for Francona's involvement in their lives.
"I always had respect for Terry, just from watching the way he handles his team. But for him to do what he did, to go out of his way on our behalf right in the middle of a season when he was so busy, that means everything to us," Gorneault said.
"When someone like him gives you his attention, it's so valuable, and it shows his true humanity."
The Gorneaults hope the story of Jami's battle against skin cancer will heighten public awareness.
"It's the No. 1 fatal disease for women under 30. People need to be aware of protecting themselves against the sun, and how dangerous it can be. We especially want to bring awareness to young girls," Nick said.
Gorneault's wife, the former Jami McAllister, grew up as a farm girl, first living in Holyoke, Colo., then in Amherst, Colo.
"I could never get over it, because I grew up near Holyoke and I went to school at UMass-Amherst. There's some kind of good karma for us in all of that," Nick said.
Jami played basketball and volleyball in high school.
"I didn't play any sports in college, but I got interested in baseball while I was there. I saw the (Arizona) Diamondbacks win the World Series in 2001," she said.
During her college years, she met Nick while he was taking part in spring training with the Angels in Tempe, near Phoenix. After their marriage, she followed him to Round Rock, Texas, where he was a farmhand of the Houston Astros in 2008, then to Manchester in 2009.
"I feel good about his new job. He gets to stay in baseball, which he loves, and there's more stability than there was when he was playing," she said.
Gorneault, who will turn 32 on April 19, was drafted out of UMass in 2001 by Anaheim in the 19th round.
As a two-sport standout at Cathedral High School, he played on Western Massachusetts championship teams in basketball and baseball as a senior in 1997.
As a kid, he loved the Red Sox, with Roger Clemens and Dwight Evans as his special favorites.
"I stopped being a Red Sox fan when I was playing pro ball, but I have to admit I was excited when they won the World Series in 2004," he said.
Now, as Nick moves into a new phase of his baseball career, Jami continues to undergo examinations every three months.
"I'm feeling great," she said. "All reports are coming back clear - no evidence of disease, as they say - and I'm more confident with each one. I reached the big three-oh in November (her 30th birthday) and I was glad to get there."
Gorneault said they take it day to day, and enjoy the little things of life together.
"Through her ordeal, Jami remained strong in her moral values and faith. She has given me new strength so we can grow together. That's what marriage means to us. When we took our vows three years ago, we pledged to stay together for better or worse. I guess we're already getting the worse out of the way," he said.
And every three months, he has a certain telephone call to make. Terry Francona wants an update.