WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Greg Gianoplus first laid eyes on his future wife while checking out of a hotel from a ski trip in Utah.
"She was living in California and I was working in Manhattan," Greg Gianoplus says. "I was very attracted. I was 28 and she was a young 21."
A long distance romance was short-lived. Christina moved to New York. The two dated for four years and married in 1994. She gave birth to the first of four children in 1995.
They were a model couple — beautiful, handsome, and fit. Christina was what many would consider the poster child for good health.
"We would tease that she was this California granola, eating organic food and tree bark before it was fashionable," Greg recalled.
Despite her impeccable diet and exercise regimen, Christina's health was about to sour.
"When she first got sick, she said, 'gosh, Greg, all my friends are going to think all this organic, good eating is for the birds.'"
About a year after the birth of their fourth child, Christina noticed some blood in her stool. But at 37, colon cancer was not even on the radar.
"Her doctor said you probably just have some internal hemorrhoids — don't worry about it and so she didn't," Greg said with exasperation.
Then in November of 2007, out of nowhere, something was wrong.
"It came on fast and furious around Thanksgiving," Greg said. "She started losing some weight rather quickly and she wasn't overweight to begin with."
From Thanksgiving to Christmas, Greg said Christina's health steadily declined.
"The best way I can describe it was like getting the flu every other week," he recounts.
It would all come to a head on New Year's Eve.
"She wasn't feeling well for a day or two and basically said 'Greg, I'm embarrassed — I've never been constipated in my life — I can't move, I just can't get out for New Year's.'"
The pain became so severe, they ended up in the emergency room.
"She had a CT scan and they sent her home with stool softener," Greg said with annoyance. "Turns out she had a total blockage and her bowel had ruptured and she was turning septic."
Following emergency surgery, Christina remained in the hospital for a month.
Her diagnosis: Stage four colon cancer.
Greg believes the doctors knew early on.
"Oh, yeah. My guess is they knew beforehand from the scans and they told me we see shadows on the liver," he said. "I think they were just being gentle."
Christina was given just a few short months to live. But she asked for aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments, determined to beat her cancer.
"She fought for the children," Greg said with tears.
Christina put up a good fight. She lived with the disease for almost four years. During that time, she spoke at public events about her cancer. While Greg said she was not aware of a family history, she encouraged people with one to get a colonoscopy before the recommended age of 50.
In the end, the cancer would prove to be too much. At 41, she died in Greg's arms on his birthday, May 3, 2011.
Today, Greg helps put on The Blue Ribbon Run, a 5k and colon cancer awareness event in honor of his wife, Christina, and another woman, Julie Brown, who also died of colon cancer at 41 the same year.
Greg said he's now on a mission to get people to pay more attention to colon cancer and to get tested. Like his wife Christina, if nothing else, he says, do it for your family.
"The only things that matter in life are relationships with people that we love and that's the legacy of Christina Gianoplus," Greg said.
THE BLUE RIBBON RUN:
Saturday, April 1, Greg Gianoplus and Ana Boudreau will co-sponsor a 5k race in honor of Ana's sister, Julie Brown and Greg's wife, Christina.
For more information on the race, click here.
To read Julie Brown's story, click here.