It was around Christmas 2015 when Janiece and Koko got the devastating news. Their seven-year-old son, Adrian, had been complaining of a back ache and had a fever that wouldn’t go away.
“We took him the Military hospital, twice,” Koko recalls. “They gave him Tylenol with codeine, and that wasn’t helping. We went to the pediatrician, and he referred us to an orthopedic specialist. The orthopedic specialist sent us to the [children’s hospital] where they drew his blood and tested it. It came back that he had cancer.”
Koko and Janiece, who are both in the Military, met through mutual friends. For Koko, it was love at first sight. “She was so fine! I knew from the first time I saw her that she’s was going to be mine,” Koko said.
For Janiece it took a little longer. “She was so sweet and innocent!” Janiece remembered thinking. “Well, I found out later she wasn’t innocent. LOL.” Janiece wanted to take her time dating Koko, but after six months knew she wanted a commitment.
From Paper Ring to the Real Bling
The proposal came after they dated for a year. “We were at Ruby Tuesday one night, and we were just talking. I asked Janiece if she’d ever want to get married again, she said she would. Then she made a paper ring out of her straw paper and asked me if I’d marry her. I laughed and said I would,” Koko shared. “We went and picked out rings a few days later. She made up for the paper ring and gave me a 2 1/2 karat platinum ring.”
At the time Janiece and Koko got married (about a year before same-sex marriage became legal nationwide), they had to go to Washington, D.C. for the ceremony. Gay marriage was not legal in Virginia where they lived. It was a simple ceremony with a few friends.
“For us that was enough,” Janiece said. “We didn’t need the big show. It was intimate and low key.”
Koko says,” The best part was just hearing her vows. I already knew how she felt, but to hear her say it made me melt.”
Janiece added, “The intimacy of getting married and taking our relationship to the next level was important to me.”
Living as a Lesbian Family in the Military
When Janiece was on active duty in the Coast Guard, they were putting people out for being gay or bisexual. And when Koko first enlisted in the Navy she knew there were gay people in hiding. At one time both Janiece and Koko were married to men.
Because of this, “I felt like the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) didn’t affect me personally. Janiece was also married to a man and was ‘safe’ too,” Koko explained.
“I was living a lie being married to a man, trying to please my religious family,” she added. “Once I divorced my ex-husband and finally lived my life for me, DADT was over, and I was able to live in my truth without fear of losing my job. That’s pretty much how it was for Janiece too.”
For their family, the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which previously made same-sex marriage illegal became important now that their son was ill. Having a small child with cancer meant spending a lot of time going back and forth to the hospital.
“At the hospital, Janiece is respected as a biological parent to him. She doesn’t have to go through all of the red tapes that straight couples never had to think about.”
The Bravest Person We Know
Adrian is now eight; he is an honor roll student. He loves reading and video games. His cancer went into remission for a while, but he relapsed this year. Adrian is now back to dealing with spinal taps, bone marrow draws, pills and chemotherapy. He spends his days at the hospital but goes home every night. It’s a lot for a little guy to handle.
“We have a really strong support network,” Koko says. “Between our families, friends and Adrian’s school, we are constantly being encouraged and supported.”
“Koko is handling this so well,” Janiece says. “My role in all this is a support system for her more so than Adrian. Koko has done outstanding. I’m here to keep her strong and help her through the process.”
“We tell Adrian that he is the bravest person we know and that he makes us strong,” Koko shares. “He has his moments when he is scared and we let him know that that’s okay. As long as we’re honest with him about everything that is going to happen to him he’s okay. He overall is a happy, normal eight-year-old. He hates missing school. On days he’s in the hospital, or his blood counts are too low for him to go to class, his teacher comes over to teach him at our house. He is so smart! He is ready for this all to be over, but he’s handling it very well. He does try to get out of his chores by saying he’s injured. LOL.”
Even during this difficult time, Janiece and Koko still make time for each other. Every Friday night is date night and that never stopped. “Even in the hospital, even if we walked around the hospital at night by ourselves. That was still date night. Our date night changed a little for a while, but we’re together and that’s what matter.”
How You Can Help Adrian
“We don’t think we’re different than any other family,” Koko says. “I think what made Adrian different during all of this was he had had so much support! From the beginning, he had the most visitors at the hospital and clinic visits. He is loved, and everyone shows him all the time. To us being a lesbian family isn’t any different than a straight family. It was amazing to meet the other gay and lesbian parents at the hospital going through the same thing as we and nobody treated any of us different.”
Sadly, Adrian lost his battle with cancer on January 8, 2018. He was eight years old. Please keep his mother, stepmother, siblings and many loved ones in your thoughts and prayers.