[This story, co-written with Matt Cohen, appeared in the Washington City Paper on May 12, 2016]
It wasn’t John Stabb’s idea. The decorations strewn about his room at Holy Cross Hospital, the photographer, and the minister. Less than a month earlier, doctors had diagnosed Stabb—the wiry, iconic lead singer of seminal D.C. hardcore band Government Issue—with an aggressive form of stomach cancer from which few recover. As part of his treatment, Jaya Vijayan, the medical director in charge of Stabb’s care, asked him what he felt compelled to make happen, what he most wanted to get done. It’s the kind of question intended to help a patient set goals and remain motivated while fighting an aggressive disease. Stabb told her he wanted two things: to get his book published, and to get married. Thus the minister.
Stabb first told others of his stomach pains a few days before playing a Jan. 19 show with his band History Repeated at Comet Ping Pong. By the day of the show, the pain was severe, the result of what Stabb thought was a bad case of appendicitis. “I was deeply concerned about his health,” says Derrick Baranowsky, Stabb’s best friend and History Repeated bandmate. “I showed up thinking it was just a regular night and he said ‘Oh, by the way, I don’t know if you heard, but I might have to go to the E.R. after this show. I might have appendicitis.”
Baranowsky urged Stabb not to perform, but he insisted. “No, no, I’ll be fine,” he recalls Stabb saying. The band played, and Stabb performed in his trademark way—thrashing about the stage and into the crowd while belting out his band’s songs—as best he could. “He did the show and he was still John, but he was clearly a little less animated,” Baranowsky says.
After the set, Stabb went to the E.R. He was released after a couple days, but he wouldn’t be home for long: A week later, Mina Devadas, Stabb’s partner, rushed him to Holy Cross Hospital, his pain now far worse. He needed emergency surgery. Doctors removed multiple tumors from his stomach, and they delivered his cancer diagnosis soon after.
In the hospital, Devadas reminded him that the two had never really talked about marriage before, other than to agree that it wasn’t for them. Both had been married before, and Devadas says they decided early in their relationship that they didn’t need a piece of paper to be happy together. “We could just date each other for the rest of our lives, and that would be pretty cool,” Devadas says. “But going through this illness, we wanted some permanency. There was a feeling of wanting to hold on and cement something.”
So Vijayan called on her team to arrange the ceremony, and on March 17—St. Patrick’s Day—Devadas and Stabb were wed. It was a private ceremony, just the two of them and the group the hospital had assembled. Stabb wore his straight edge hoodie; Devadas wore a hoodie of her own. They exchanged dog tags with their names on them Devadas made at a local pet store. “It was a really fun, really happy day for both of us,” she says.
The doctors had agreed to let Stabb delay his chemotherapy for a day so he’d feel good at his wedding. That night, Stabb began a chemo regimen that would last for 21 consecutive days. The treatment left him weak but did little to stop the cancer.
“Our honeymoon was in a hospital bed that we made into a double bed by pushing a cot together with the hospital bed,” Devadas says. “And I spent every night of those 112 days with John in the hospital, because he asked me to, and I didn’t want to be anywhere else.”