PORT RICHEY — He kept telling everyone he was fine and they believed him because they wanted to believe him, because Jason Gay couldn't be really sick. He didn't look sick. And he was so young. Surely, he would beat it.
Gay, a detective at the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, died Tuesday (March 22, 2011). He had been diagnosed with rectal cancer last March, when he was 27.
"You don't belong in my office," the doctor told Gay.
This type of cancer mostly appears in older people. The doctor told Gay's family the chance of a case like this is less than 1 percent. Gay didn't even have many symptoms; just a few weeks of pain. The first doctor he saw told him to not worry. It was probably hemorrhoids. The doctor gave him some pamphlets, which Gay's mother found in her son's bag while she waited as he underwent a colonoscopy.
Debbie Gay felt relieved. Surely, that's all this could be. Then the doctor called for her.
"It's cancer," the doctor said. "And it's bad."
There was a tumor and it had spread. It was in his liver. It was in his lymph nodes.
Gay was always so healthy. A big, strong young man. Vibrant. He never liked to sit still. He was on a softball league. A hockey league. A football league. He played golf every weekend. He bowled every Monday in a league with his friends and his dad, Willis, whom everyone calls Willie. He was the one who got Jason into law enforcement. Willie is a cook at the Pasco County jail. Being around law enforcement types rubbed off on Gay, who got a job as a civilian in the property cashier's office at the jail in 2003. Gay's younger brothers followed suit: Brian, 24, and William, 22, are both deputies at the jail.
Gay went to the academy and became a detention deputy, then took more courses, all while still working full time, to become a road patrol deputy. In 2009, he was promoted to detective with the property crimes unit. Capt. Ed Beckman uses Gay as an example when people ask about opportunities in the agency; he tells them of what Gay accomplished in just a few years.
To people who knew Gay, this is not surprising. When he did something, when he wanted something, he did it 100 percent. When he was dieting, he was at the gym at 5 a.m. and ate only lettuce, tofu and rice. When he was eating, he was eating: He loved Japanese steak houses. He loved partying: Vegas, karaoke, beer or fruity drinks with the umbrellas. He didn't care what people thought. If he liked something, he liked it.
Such as chick flicks.
"Did you see 27 Dresses?" Gay once asked his friend Detective Mike Rosa, who works in the major crimes unit. This conversation was in a room full of deputies.
"No, Jason," Rosa recalls saying. "I did not see that movie."
"It's so funny," Gay said.
Gay wasn't embarrassed, not by The Notebook or pina coladas. He named his cats Trevor and Mister Jingles.
He was always fun, always energetic, up for anything. He saw the Grand Canyon and went on cruises to the Caribbean. He kissed sea lions and held monkeys. There are hundreds of photos of him and in all of them he seems happy, arms around his friends; beaches, restaurants, airports, scuba diving.
He still worked, even when the chemo made his hands numb and made his throat feel he was drinking razor blades.
He still played hockey.
He still bowled.
He wore long shirts to cover the machine he carried every other week that pumped chemo continuously into his body.
In June, he competed in a roller hockey tournament.
In October, he went on a cruise.
His liver began to fail and his skin turned yellow and he told the other detectives he was fine.
"He was dying in our office and nobody knew," Rosa said.
He didn't want anyone to worry about him. He didn't want pity or to be treated specially. He wanted to be one of the guys. He wouldn't talk about the cancer.
"I know I have it," he'd tell his dad. And he shut the conversation down.
When he couldn't bowl anymore, he found bingo. He and his parents went every Saturday night. That's where they spent New Year's Eve, playing bingo in Tampa. He moved in with them a few months ago.
His last full day at work was Feb. 14. A few weeks before his death, he called his sergeant asking if he could work from home.
Detective Gay went downhill fast. His organs began shutting down and he went to the emergency room Sunday. Most of his friends got a chance to come and say goodbye. And on Tuesday, when the life support was shut off, he took a few deep breaths and was gone.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.