Joey Marie Martin Feek (September 9, 1975 – March 4, 2016) was an American country music singer and songwriter. From 2008 to 2016, the duo Joey + Rory comprised Joey and her husband, Rory Lee Feek.
Life and musical career
Joey Martin Feek was born Joey Marie Martin on September 9, 1975 in Alexandria, Indiana, to Jack and June Martin. She was the middle child of five children: 3 sisters (Jody, Julie, Jessie) and 1 younger brother, Justin, who in 1994 died in a car accident very close to the Martin family farm. She was encouraged by her father, who played guitar, to start singing and performing at an early age She moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 1998 to pursue a career as a veterinarian, and established connections with LeAnn Rimes's father, Wilbur, and Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn. At a songwriter night, she met songwriter Rory Lee Feek, whom she married in June 2002. She sang backing vocals on Blaine Larsen's 2004 album Off to Join the World, which her husband co-produced. Joey was signed to Sony Nashville and recorded an unreleased solo album in 2005 titled "Strong Enough to Cry", but due to change in management and restructuring at Sony, her album was shelved and never released.
Rise to fame
In 2008 a friend suggested that Joey and Rory try out for a new show called "Can You Duet" with the purpose of finding the next great country duo. They made an audition tape, and this is when they came up with the name "Joey + Rory" to compete on the talent show Can You Duet where they finished in third place and were signed to Sugarhill Vanguard Records that produced 3 of their albums. The duo released eight albums overall and charted a Top 30 Hot Country Songs hit with "Cheater, Cheater". Feek co-wrote many of the songs on the albums with her husband.
Birth of first child
Expecting a baby in early 2014, the couple had decided to spend the year at home, taking a break from their music career to raise their new baby. In February 2014, Indiana was born at home with midwives, surrounded by her big sisters, Grandma June and of course Rory. Home birth was an experience Joey described as one of the best moments of her life. In the days immediately following Indiana's birth, the couple learned that Indy has Down Syndrome.
Cervical cancer diagnosis and treatment
A few short months later in May 2014, Joey was diagnosed with cervical cancer. After surgery and treatment she was declared cancer free and did not receive any radiation or chemotherapy as her surgeons declared the surgery to be a success with the cancer removed with clean margins. In June 2015, after the family had finished filming their movie, Josephine, Joey was not feeling well again and sought medical advice. After undergoing further medical testing, it was discovered that the cervical cancer had returned and metastasized to her colon.
In July 2015, Joey underwent a second surgery to remove a 9 cm tumor (recurrence of cervical cancer) that had invaded her colon and surrounding structures. The surgery was long and involved and required the use of inter-operative radiation as there were tumors the surgeon could not get clear margins on. Still, the medical team was hopeful for Joey's situation, and she recovered from surgery to continue on to endure an intense round of radiation and chemo in the summer of 2015. While undergoing treatment at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Joey would record hymns in their hotel room for the last CD the couple would create together, "Hymns That Are Important To Us".
October 2015, Rory revealed in a blog post that Joey's cancer was terminal, and they were stopping all treatment as the chemo and radiation she had suffered through for the last few months was not working. The MRI "scans revealed that two quarter-sized tumors have already grown back in the same area that they had been blasting daily with chemo and radiation [and] that many more smaller tumors were visible all throughout the abdominal region. She said that the cancer was aggressively spreading". There were no more treatment options available and all there was left to do was keep Joey as comfortable as possible for the time she had left.
Hospice care and death
On November 9, 2015, Rory announced via his blog THIS LIFE I LIVE that Joey had entered hospice care and they had decided to focus on living the time that Joey had left and not focus on the doctor's timeline for her survival. In November 2015, she began receiving home hospice care at her Mother's home in Alexandria, Indiana where she started to rapidly decline. Concerned that she did not have as much time left to live as the doctor's had given her, Joey asked Rory if they could remain in Alexandria so she could die in the family home she was born in. Joey's older sister, Jody, a registered nurse, provided end-of-life support for her sister in conjunction with home hospice. In a November 2015 interview with The Tennessean, Joey stated that she was not angry with God, but was disappointed that after undergoing radical gynecological surgery to eradicate the cancer, it had returned as inoperable, unresponsive to treatment, and terminal.
Rory continued to blog their experience, and the couple maintained a positive attitude and demeanor in her last weeks and months, and even when the situation looked grim they never gave up hope. However, in January 2016, her morphine dose needed to keep the cancer pain under control had quadrupled. Rory revealed in blog post titled "When I'm Gone" that, following an emotional talk with Joey and reflecting that they had been able to spend Christmas and the New Year with their family and friends, as opposed to before when they were still more optimistic, they both had come to terms with and accepted her terminal diagnosis and worsening health. She was able to celebrate Indiana's second birthday and Valentine's Day with her and Rory, see them receive a Grammy nomination for "If You Needed Me", and see and hear the final recording the duo would make together, an album of hymns that Joey had always wanted to make that debuted at number 8 on the Billboard 200 when it was released, and peaked at number 4 on the Billboard 200 3 weeks after its release.
At the end of February 2016, after saying her goodbyes to her family and relatives, Joey told Rory that she was "ready to stop fighting", and that she was very tired and it was time for her to go as the "flowers would soon be blooming back in Tennessee". She then fell into a deep sleep for about one week, from which she was not expected to awaken. According to Rory and the attending hospice nurse, Joey was showing signs of organ dysfunction and shutdown due to the cancer continuing to metastasize. Rory posted a goodbye tribute video and continued to remain at his wife's side as she entered her last few days. The couple had reached every milestone that they had realistically set—Christmas and the New Year, Valentine's Day, the Grammys, and Indiana's second birthday. She was pronounced dead on March 4, 2016, at approximately 2:30pm. She was 40 years old. Honoring her wishes, Rory held a private funeral on their farm in Tennessee and Joey was buried in the family cemetery on the Feek farm, where Rory's mother had been buried in 2014 and where Rory himself will be buried.
To Joey, With Love
On what would have been their 14th wedding anniversary, Rory Feek announced that as an anniversary gift to his late wife he had decided to make a film about her, To Joey, With Love. On his blog, Rory Feek shared that he had accumulated 9 TB's of video footage from the last 30 months of their lives together, and that watching this footage helped him to remember what his life was like when she was full of life and not sick with cancer. Along with a small team of his creative partners, Rory Feek managed to finish the film during Spring and Summer 2016, and it is scheduled to play in select theatres across the USA on September 20, 2016, with some cities planning an additional showing for early October 2016.
Rory Lee Feek continues to live in the farmhouse he shared with Joey and their children, where he is busy raising Indiana, their 2 1/2-year-old daughter who has Down Syndrome, where Joey has been laid to rest in the family cemetery on the farm that she loved so dearly.