For Tina Martin and David Medford’s love story to be any more ‘80s, it would have to be set to an REO Speedwagon montage. They spotted each other across a Maryland skating rink in 1987 and went to prom together at Glen Burnie High School soon after. Their song? “Heaven” by Bryan Adams. The hair was big but the feelings were bigger.
Alas, their teenage idyll was short, and both — to paraphrase an era-appropriate Journey song — went their separate ways.
Nearly 37 years later, Medford’s hair is still full but streaked with gray, and Martin’s is gone, the result of the chemotherapy that, along with a bone marrow transplant, is meant to save her life. With the help of Facebook, the two have renewed their relationship, pursuing a love that has proven stronger than sickness, time and hairlines.
“Even with me being bald, he still thinks I’m absolutely gorgeous,” said Martin, 54, beaming at her beloved in the living room of the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge in downtown Baltimore. The couple, whose home is in York County, Pennsylvania, have stayed at the lodge so she’s close to the Johns Hopkins Hospital for treatment for angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma, a rare blood cancer.
The sweetly smitten way they act together makes it easy to see the kids they were back when Medford got a glimpse of a pretty girl across the way at Skateland Glen Burnie. The two went to the same high school but were in different classes and hadn’t met. “My friend noticed me looking at her and said ‘Come on, man! Go ask her out!’” Medford said. “Finally, we made eye contact a few times and I got the nerve.”
Numbers were exchanged, and eventually a prom invitation was made and accepted. The photo from that special night is pretty epic. Medford looks a little like “The Karate Kid”-era Ralph Macchio, with a ‘do Martin describes as “kind of like a mullet.” Martin, posed next to him, is resplendent in ruffles, lace and hoop earrings.
Things looked picture-perfect but weren’t meant to be, at least for the moment. Medford and Martin broke up a month after the dance amid the usual teen drama. “He called me a year later, apologized and that was it,” Martin said.
Time passed. Marriage and kids happened. Relationships ended. Martin worked in IT at Pennsylvania’s Glatfelter Insurance Group, and Medford worked in various jobs until he had to go on disability after he was hit in the head with a truck lid that detached his retina.
Martin was in a difficult relationship that had her literally praying to God for a sign. That came, she said, in 2021 in the form of a Facebook message from a guy she hadn’t seen in years who’d spotted her picture.
“The name changed, but I knew it was her,” said Medford, who once again dropped his long-ago girlfriend a note offering an apology for their breakup decades earlier. Soon the two were planning a meetup in a Walmart parking lot roughly halfway between his home in Maryland and hers in Pennsylvania.
“I was really nervous,” Martin remembered, but the ice was broken when they realized they were both driving 2004 Toyota Camrys. “We haven’t been apart since,” she said. “I have to thank God that he came into my life.”
Their reunion was particularly touching to me because it reminds me of my own. My late husband Scott and I were classmates at Baltimore City College high school, also with significantly ‘80s hair. We didn’t date then, but found each other again decades later on Facebook. Despite more lined faces and changing waistlines, the years fell away.
In Medford and Martin’s case, things moved fast and the two began to make a life together,. About a year into their relationship, Martin started “feeling drained and not like me,” she said. “I could tell something was wrong. It came quick. All my lymph nodes blew up, not to the size of golf balls, but baseballs.”
And so began a series of incomplete diagnoses and disappointing prognoses with a series of doctors and hospitals. “In July 2022 they told me I had six months to live,” she said. Eventually they found their way to Hopkins and learned that she had AITL, which accounts for only 1% to 2% of non-Hodgkin lymphoma cases. Martin started what would total five rounds of chemotherapy. Immediately, “all my long hair was in the shower,” she said.
It seems massively unfair they found their way back to each other after all this time only to face such a terrifying illness. “It’s been a complete roller coaster,” Medford said. “In your mind and your heart, you are not prepared for cancer. But as it’s happened, it has brought us closer.”
Medford has had his own health issues, including the injury that left him blind in one eye and kidney disease. “It does take two to help each other out,” Martin said.
Both are grateful for the accommodations at the Baltimore Hope Lodge, one of several facilities around the country that houses patients and their caregivers that live 40 miles or more away from the hospital where they are being treated. “Words can’t describe it,” Martin said. “There’s no way we could do this. It just gives you hope.”
“It makes hope possible,” Medford added.
Martin is scheduled to go home this week and is optimistic. “I have my good days and my bad days, but I do a lot better with him,” she said, pointing at Medford. “They told me it might take six months to a year to feel normal. But this has brought me closer to God. It’s scary facing death.”
In the end, the cancer has also brought her closer to that boy from the skating rink. “I love her even more, in all of this,” Medford said. “There’s going to be a healing.”
Looking at them, you have to believe it.