He says her smile lights up a room. She loves his optimism, good looks and great singing voice. Together they have seen the “in sickness and in health” portion of their wedding vows challenged many times throughout their 13-year marriage, but Tori Thurston Burton and Jerry Burton still seize and share an impressive amount of joy each day.
The couple, who met at Tori’s parents’ bar, the eponymous Fuzzy’s Bar and Grill where Jerry was working as a karaoke host, relocated to Florida six years ago.
A frightening diagnosis that landed Jerry in ICU for 35 days last year threatened the idyllic life they share as semi-retired owners of a travel company. In all, he spent two and a half months in the hospital battling chondrosarcoma, a type of bone cancer in his pelvis.
Each time he suffered a setback, Jerry battled back and a whole community across the country rejoiced when he was able to leave the hospital and head back home.
“It was a tough time for sure,” said Tori, who spent that whole stretch by her husband’s side. “But our love and faith, along with friends and family support, is getting us through this. Not to mention the fantastic doctors and nurses! Our new challenge now is to accept our new normal way of life and dealing with how cancer has turned our life upside down.”
Tori, a Type 1 diabetic who has suffered some complications from the disease in the 42 years since her diagnosis, has also relied on Jerry when her health takes a turn.
“Through it all we have been each other’s biggest supporters,” she said.
Their advice to people hoping to enjoy a similarly supportive relationship with their spouse is to never stop dating, even after you exchange your vows.
“Surround yourself with friends who will strengthen your marriage,” Tori said “Always express your love. And laugh often!”
It helps, too, to start your marriage with a ceremony so beautiful it makes everyone cry.
“We had a poolside wedding at Paris Hotel and Casino (in Las Vegas),” Tori said. “Jerry sang ‘Love of a Lifetime’ as my son walked me down the aisle on a record 110 degree day.”
Jerry and Tori have continued the celebration in the 13 years since. They love to host family and friends for barbecues and swim parties. They work for a non profit organization called “One Person at a Time” that helps homeless people get a new start at life and Jerry still sings at various establishments throughout Southwest Florida.
“This has allowed us to meet so many people from all walks of life,” Tori said.
On Tuesday, Jerry received confirmation of some bad news he had suspected, but he handled it with the honestly and optimism that has become his trademark. He posted this shortly after hearing the news:
“Well!!! Had my meeting with the neurologist this morning and was told what I didn’t want to hear but was expecting it. My femoral nerve will not come back. That is the nerve that controls your walking and lifting your leg, which is what I can’t do. My doctor in Tampa was worried about me checking into it and getting depressed when I hear the news. Well, guess what?? I did get depressed, but then I remembered it could be worse. The difference with me also is I have HUGE support starting with God, my wife, my family, my friends, and friends I have never met. Yes, my life will be different and tuff, but I will get thru this. Once I get used to my new norm, I will be fine. So on that note God Bless you all and thanks for your continued support.”
Fortunately, Jerry can still sing and he continues to host shows throughout the area.
In addition to health challenges, Tori and Jerry occasionally face negative feedback because they are an interracial couple but, according to Tori, that doesn’t happen too often and they certainly don’t let it tamp down their joy.
“Our proudest moment is when we said, ‘I do!’” Tori said. “And the beautiful life we have created with each other and our family and friends.”