I met the man I’m going to marry almost 12 years ago at the age of 19. (Marry, you ask????? Keep reading!!) I was in the cafeteria of my college and I pointed him out to my best friend and said decisively “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’m going to marry that guy.” He was tall (I needed his genes for my kids to have a chance), smart (again, gotta think of the kids), funny (but I’m funnier, at least I think so), and quiet (which was perfect because that meant more opportunities for me to talk and we all know talking is my favorite). But we did what most young couples do: we hurt each other and broke up and then got back together so we could hurt each other some more. After five years together we went our separate ways. I headed off to law school to lawyer up and we kept our distance for the next five years.
After I finished cancer treatment I reached out to him. Much like one would do in Alcoholics Anonymous or some other 12-step program I wanted to mend the fence, simply clear the air, and tell him I forgave him for hurting me and I hoped someday we could be friends. And so we became just that for the next two years—good friends that talked about sports (He’s a Redskins fan, people! Disaster!) and occasionally spoke on the phone. Last summer, he came to visit sunny, romantic Ohio and like clockwork we got back together… again… because it just made sense. We make sense and, well readers, we are getting married!!! (Pause for applause.) I have had a very turbulent few years. We all know this. But, in an amazing turn of events I have had a very spectacular year thus far. I am engaged to my favorite person. And, oddly, it terrifies me…
I was driving home from work about a week after he proposed—after the man I want to spend the rest of my life with asked me a very important question and put a VERY pretty ring on my finger, and I found myself bawling my eyes out. I was happy, like crazy happy, and that paralyzed me with fear. I kept saying out loud to myself on my drive home with tears pouring down my face, “Am I allowed to be this happy? This is crazy. Am I allowed to feel like this? What is happening?!!?” You see, after you have been through what I have been through every single step forward is heavy. No matter how hard you try to put the past in the past you are reminded over and over again of what you have been through and you just reach towards the future in desperation and hope it is clean and clear and cancer-free. Every step forward is both terrifying and freeing at the same time and you constantly pray under your breath. I am in constant prayer that my future is long. I am in constant prayer that my future is there. I am in constant prayer that good things will continue to happen. Now, with the addition of another person, my prayers are twice as long, twice as intense, and twice as deliberate. I have this other person to consider in all this now and it doubles the pressure but also makes everything twice as great.
A survivor friend of mine is pregnant. She already has one beautiful daughter and now is expecting a second girl. She is in her thirties like me and she asked me, after I got engaged, “Aren’t we just so lucky to be here and to be enjoying normal 30-something experiences?” Her poignant observation baffled me and made me take a step back because I had not really thought about it in those terms. But, yes, to answer her question– it is absolutely incredible to be experiencing things I wasn’t sure I would get to experience a few years back. When I got diagnosed I vividly remember telling my mom that if things didn’t go well—that if things didn’t go our way—that I wanted to go try on wedding dresses. To me that is one of those experiences that every girl should have. No matter if she lives until she is 15 or 115, every girl should get to walk into a store filled with tulle, sequins, and hope and try on THAT dress that is what she has always dreamed about since she was a little girl. I get to do that and not in just the staged way I had pondered when I got sick and I feel just so incredibly lucky to get to do that.
My cancer treatment cost my parents a lot of money. About how much a wedding would cost actually. It turns out cancer is very expensive. Because my parents helped me out so much when I was sick, I want to help pay for my wedding myself–I want to pay for as much of it as I can. I was up all night a few evenings ago stressing about how I was going to pay for it and I slapped myself in the face. No, literally, I was in bed with an expense spreadsheet and I slapped myself across the face. I told myself how lucky I was that that was my stressor and I told myself to just pull it together.
Everyone in my life keeps congratulating me on this precious news. And I say thank you and tell them how incredibly happy I am, but what they don’t know is that it is also really difficult for me because I know so many women who were touched by this disease who don’t get to experience this. I know two incredible fighters that were diagnosed just around the same time I was that passed away at the end of this last year that will never get to know what this feels like. And not just this experience of getting married. Some people don’t choose to get married. I am talking about all those wonderful experiences, whatever they may be, that we take for granted as we meander through life. And I just sit here and ask myself, “Why me? Why do I get to know that feeling? Why am I still here?” My heart is heavy with guilt that I am still here and my friends aren’t. I cry for the moms that don’t get to take their daughters to the store and try on wedding dresses. My heart breaks for the fathers that don’t get to walk their daughters down the aisle. What they would give for their biggest stressor to be the cost of a wedding. But they aren’t here. It just isn’t fair.
This blog post runs in about 1,500 different directions but I guess that is because my point is that when good things happen to cancer survivors a chain reaction of about 1,500 different emotions occurs. I am so grateful to be here. I am beyond ecstatic for this time in my life. My heart breaks, however, for those who missed so much. Every step I take throughout this wedding process I find myself thinking of them and it is overwhelming at times. I guess I am kind of hoping I can carry them with me in my heart so they can experience a little of the magic too. I will always remember them when good things happen and I will carry on for me and for them.