How Do You Tell Your New Boyfriend That You Have Cancer? I Wish I Had Known
In April, we featured a Money Diary from a woman dealing with incurable cancer. Now, she’s back to write about another part of her life.
Since her diary, she has been accepted onto the clinical trial she was waiting to hear about. It is too early to tell whether or not the new treatment is working, but she feels well and has finally been able to get travel insurance!
My last good year was 2016. And considering that it was my last ‘good’ year, it was actually pretty terrible.
It started with a Valentine’s Day break-up. Or two. Just before the not-so-big day, Mario (not his real name), the Italian misanthrope that I had been hoping to one day call my boyfriend, decided that I wasn’t worth the effort.
“Can we just be friends?”
I deleted his messages.
Then came the freight train. The split-your-heart-in-two pain of losing a close friend to another country. After three years and countless nights of delivery pizza, patio parties and wine, my beloved housemate moved back to her home country to be with her boyfriend. No more lazy Sunday breakfasts. No more clothes swaps. I’d be restarting the dodgy boiler on cold mornings by myself from now on.
I managed to keep it together until her boyfriend’s car pulled away. I missed her, but I felt as if I’d also missed out. She’d met her love in her parents’ garden (what are the chances?), while I’d spent the previous few years being a serial rebound girlfriend – no-one’s first choice. Where was my meet-cute? I taped up my broken heart and vowed that somehow, I’d turn the year around. That was February…
Naturally, what followed was ten months of hideous dates. So hideous, in fact, that I adopted the mantra “bad times make good stories” (I’m still riding that wave, let’s be honest) and I became a hit at post-work office drinks. There was the Irish philosopher who ducked under a pool table to avoid his ex-girlfriend, almost dragging me down with him. The fussy vegan who would only go to restaurants that served baked potatoes. The rock climber who wouldn’t let me get a word in edgewise. The man in the shorts.
I survived a series of summer weddings where well-meaning friends matched me with bankers, then brewers. I didn’t have anything to say to any of them. Finally, September rolled around and I turned 29: the same age as my mother when she had my younger brother. Our lives are in no way comparable, but I measured mine against hers nonetheless. At 29, my mother was married, owned a smart new suburban semi, and was already raising two children. I’d spent the summer drinking too much champagne and forking out for dresses, hats, and rural taxis from end-of-the-line stations. Now I was going to hunker down for winter. I deleted all the dating apps from my phone and promised myself that I would focus on my career instead.
In January I emerged and reinstalled. This year, I promised myself, everyone would get a second date. Maybe with time I’d get used to Mr. Baked Potato? Thankfully I didn’t have the opportunity to experiment. On the last day of the first week in January, I met someone.
My husband remembers the early days of our relationship far better than I ever can. I know the films we saw and the restaurants where we ate, but he can recall the exact dates and even the plates we shared. But while his focus was on me, and the long and happy life that he saw spooling out in front us, I couldn’t take my mind off The Lump.
The Lump was only small at first. I tried to ignore it and focus on my relationship (amazing!) and my work (OK!), but as it grew bigger, I knew that I had to seek medical attention. He drove me to hospital, then home again afterwards.
How do you tell your new boyfriend that you have cancer? I wish I had known! We’d only been together for three months. Once we’d both stopped crying, I politely informed him that he should leave me, probably. I was staring death in the face and I didn’t want anyone else to stand there with me – it simply wasn’t fair. He ignored me and stuck around anyway. That year we swapped the summer weddings for summer surgery. My post-op room stunk of infection that he graciously (for the most part) pretended not to notice. He bathed me, administered my blood-thinning injections, and took me out for ice cream.
He proposed to me on the beach the following year, the day after we’d learned that my cancer had spread and that the disease could no longer be cured. We chose the engagement ring together straight afterwards, from a small independent jeweller in a sleepy seaside town, and drove home on a high. Later, we eloped.
2016 felt bad. So bad, in fact, that at some point in December that year I had felt compelled to write a list of ‘Reasons why 2016 wasn’t terrible’ then stuff it in a desk drawer, where I found it a couple of weeks ago. Looking back, the year doesn’t seem too shabby: I went to some good gigs, visited my old housemate and her boyfriend in their home country, and ate my weight in delicious food.
I couldn’t have anticipated that my life would be knocked off course so suddenly. It might sound weird, but I struggle to remember a time before I had cancer, when I didn’t wake up each morning with the thought that this day might be my last. But has life been so terrible since? Of course not. There are difficult days, obviously, but in the past couple of years I have lived and loved much more deeply than I could ever have imagined.
And let’s be honest: if I could get through 2016, I can get through anything.
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