Inside Joey Feek's Brave Cancer Battle
COUNTRY'S INSPIRING COUPLE
After being diagnosed with cervical cancer, Joey Martin – who rose to fame with husband Rory on CMT's Can You Duet – underwent a radical hysterectomy in May 2014. "And then, like turning off a faucet, we said a prayer, dried our tears and put our trust in Him," Rory wrote on his blog This Life I Live.
Seen here following another surgery, Joey flashes a smile as Rory takes her picture in July 2015. "Joey's feeling so much better today," he wrote on Instagram.
Joey revels in days spent with Rory and their daughter Indiana, 20 months, who has Down syndrome.
LOVE & SUPPORT
"My pretty bride this morning reading some of the beautiful cards, letters and gifts that have come into the hospital for her," Rory wrote in July 2015. Despite undergoing a hysterectomy in 2014 and another surgery in July, the cancer began "aggressively spreading," prompting the country singer to receive chemotherapy and radiation.
After Joey's hair began to fall out, Rory shaved her head for her. "Day by day, the effects of all the chemo Joey had received the last couple months was causing her hair to get thinner and thinner," Rory wrote in November. "Our older daughters were still here, so they sat at the foot of Joey's chair in the middle of the living room and held her hands as I took the clippers that she usually cuts my hair with, and followed through with her wishes." But Joey wasn't alone: Her sisters Jody, Julie and Jessie, plus her dad Jack and niece Alyssa, all shaved their heads in solidarity.
Sadly, five weeks of treatment didn't improve Joey's condition, so the family made the decision to transfer her into hospice care to live out her final days. "We did what you do when the medicine isn't working, and the doctors are at a loss ... and when the 'statistics' say you can do more chemo, but it will only buy you a little time," Rory wrote on his blog. "We came home. Not to die. But to live."
As Joey continues to battle cervical cancer at her childhood home in Alexandria, Indiana, the country singer is surrounded by loved ones – most notably husband Rory's adult daughters Heidi and Hopie and the couple's daughter Indiana. "I pray that one morning I just don't wake up," she told The Tennessean in an interview. "But I don't fear anything because I'm so close to God and we've talked about it so many times. I know he's close. And I know he loves me. I'm really at peace. I still believe there's healing in prayer."
ON BED REST
Still at her childhood home in Indiana, Joey "can no longer get out of bed," Rory shared on his blog. But she's still fighting. "My wife is strong," he continued. "Very very strong. So is her will to live. Especially with a little one who gets excited every morning to see her." Her days are filled with ups and downs, Rory said – as well as hope. "Today and the last few days have been incredible," he wrote. "Part of us once again believes that God is answering Joey's prayer by healing her body and taking the cancer away, despite all the odds."
A SURPRISE BLESSING
Joey and Indiana showed off their mile-wide smiles during a signing lesson with Mom, who even felt strong enough to go for a stroll. "It's 60 and sunny outside today and even brighter inside. Joey's out of bed teaching signs to Indy on the floor," Rory wrote on Facebook in mid-December. The special moment came just days after the couple were pleasantly surprised by news of their Grammy nomination. "[I] woke my bride up this morning with a baby in my arms and the news that our version of 'If I Needed You' was nominated for a Grammy," Rory wrote. "God is so good. Thank you, thank you, thank you."
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
'LOVING EACH OTHER'
"Loving watching them loving each other," Rory captioned a photo of Joey and Indiana reading together in bed. The family is winding down again after a hectic Christmas season. "The holidays have been a roller-coaster for my bride," Rory wrote on his blog on Jan. 5. "They say that at Christmas time emotions run high, and you feel more than you do the rest of the year. I think that's probably true. Though she managed a smile most of the time, Joey's heart was heavy and she was feeling some things she hadn't before."
CURE FOR A HEAVY MIND
Indiana continues to be the highlight of her mom's days on bed rest. "Joey had had some tough days and the decline of her condition was weighing heavy on her and all of our minds," Rory wrote on his blog on Jan. 14. "But in a matter of minutes, Indy had her mama laughing out loud," he said of putting the infant on Joey's bed. "I don't know where Indy gets her personality from," he added. "Joey says it's from me. I'm not sure I believe her. But no matter … one thing is for sure, our little one has one of the most expressive little faces I've ever seen."
A TOUCHING ENCORE
Despite not knowing how much time she has left, Joey still wanted to give fans something to remember her by – specifically the couple's upcoming album. "It's the last album we will ever make and the last songs that we will ever sing together," Rory told Today. "That makes it very, very special to Joey and me."
FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE
Though Rory admitted that the hardest part of dealing with Joey's illness is facing the idea that she won't be around for the rest of his life – "I'm 10 years older than Joey and I always knew that when I get old or if something were to happen to me, Joey would be there beside me no matter what," he told PEOPLE – he thinks their ordeal has only made their love stronger. "For better or worse aren't just words you say anymore," he explained. "Because of all Joey is going through, it's given me the opportunity to live them every day, and follow through and mean the words I said to her at the altar."
Despite undergoing chemotherapy and radiation at the Cancer Treatment Center in Newnan, Georgia, Joey recorded vocals for Hymns That Are Important to Us, the couple's new album out Feb. 12. "She would sing into a microphone that we had set up in our room," Rory told PEOPLE of working on the new tunes in 2015. "It wasn't easy, but it was important to her. Those are moments I'll never forget."
NOT READY TO SAY GOODBYE
Joey has remained strong through much of her battle, but the thought of never seeing her close friend Julie ever again was enough to leave her "inconsolable." Rory revealed Joey's heartbreak in a recent blog post, where he noted that as Julie packed her bags after a week-long visit with the Feeks, the harsh reality of their situation began to set in. "I put my arms around her and asked what was wrong," he wrote. "As her lips quivered and she tried to catch her breath, the tears streamed her cheeks and Joey said, 'I don't think I will ever see her again.' "
BLESSED WITH A VISIT
Joey welcomed a special guest to the family's home in February. "...blessed w a beautiful visit and time of prayer last night from our sweet friends Mike amp Sally Rosser. Mike is the pastor who married us almost 14 years ago," Rory captioned a photo of the couple at his wife's bedside. After the Rossers stopped by, Rory also posted a picture of daughter Indiana's cute bath-time face. "also blessed w this precious little one. Somehow she makes the most routine things (breakfast, bath, potty-time) …great, joy-filled fun," he wrote.
'A WEEK TO REMEMBER'
It was a busy week for Joey and Rory as they enjoyed a sweet Valentine's sushi date followed by a small party for Indiana's second birthday. "As I said goodnight and tucked the blankets around her in the little hospital bed she has been living in for months she thanked me for the special night and then made one last request," Rory wrote about their Valentine's Day celebration. "'If Jody helps me to scoot over to one side … could you try to lay down with me and put your arms around me?' I haven't been able to be in the same bed with my wife or hold her in my arms since the beginning of November – when she made her last trip to the hospital. But for one sweet half-an-hour … that changed on Valentine's Day."
BRINGING THE KITCHEN TO MOM
"When a mother can't get to the kitchen, but wants so much to help make her family dinner... you bring the kitchen to mama," Rory captioned an Instagram photo of Joey hard at work with a blender and cutting board in her hospital bed on Feb. 21.
READY TO GO HOME
On Feb. 29, Rory revealed on his blog that nurses had told him Joey would "most-likely only be with us for a few more days…at most. She was ready to stop fighting and she told me so. She said the flowers would soon be blooming back in Tennessee. It's time to go home," he wrote. "Joey gathered her family together around her and said goodbye to each of them. There were lots of tears as she explained to each one how much she loved them and that she was going to be going home soon. That her time here was done and she was going to go to sleep soon. And then she asked me to bring our baby in. And so… I set out little Indy on Joey's lap and we all cried with my wife as she told her how much her mama loved her … and then she pulled Indiana up and she kissed her. One last kiss." Rory also shared that Joey has been "asleep for days" since her emotional goodbyes and that "her body is shutting down quickly." On March 4, her "dream came true," Rory wrote, as she passed away surrounded by loved ones.