At its core, I always hope that APW is about listening to that tiny voice inside you that tells you who you are and what’s right for you. So this week, as we are exploring health and illness and how it affects our relationships, it seemed like the perfect time for this post. Today’s anonymous post is about being in a relationship and surviving a brain tumor. But it’s also about what happens when a relationship that has been there through massive life events ends up not being quite right. But today’s post isn’t just about that. It’s about how we each need to protect and care for ourselves, so we’re able to listen to that still small voice, and so we can act on it when we need to.
About a month before our scheduled wedding in July, I was rushed by ambulance to a hospital three hours away for emergency surgery to remove a tumor the size of a raquetball from my brain.
Less than a week before that, I had told my fiancé that I had doubts about marrying him.
It took tremendous courage for me to admit to my fiance the questions that had plagued me since we became engaged. When I grew violently ill the morning after telling him—the first dramatic sign of things to come—I became completely dependent on the person whose world I had just shattered.
It was not a good summer.
My takeaway message? Sometimes you have to dig really deep into yourself, into really painful places, to find that voice telling you the next move to make. Other times you need to have patience and listen.
We moved to a new city about a year ago so he could take a job offer and I could pursue my dream of going into business for myself. We rented a charming house in a historic neighborhood. We befriended the neighbors. I picked up one solid freelance client and a few months later landed another. He enjoyed his job far more than the one he left. We spent weekends hiking in nearby mountains and checking out different parts of town. At first we were very, very happy.
The move came at a difficult point for us. We had been together almost six years, and we were both feeling somewhat burnt out on our jobs, our living situation, and the high cost of renting where we did. The new city was three hours away and took care of all of those problems. Deep down I prayed that it was the outside issues, not him, that were fueling my discontent. I hoped he was who I was taking my frustrations out on, not the source of them. We ramped up planning for our wedding.
Slowly I realized, no. With those old issues fixed, I could no longer pass my unhappiness off on something else. I had to address our relationship.
We got together in 2005, right before I was diagnosed with a disease that causes fast-moving organ failure. (Yeah. Seriously.) He held my hand while I had IV treatments that left me sick for three days; he kissed my skin after I injected medicine; he humored my cooking while I endured different diets. Finally, he slept on the floor of my hospital room the night after I had a transplant in 2007. I felt so lucky. I had heard nightmares of husbands who abandoned their wives when the women became sick. I didn’t have one of those guys. Mine brought me pizza in bed.
For two years I was blissful. I felt better and stronger. I grew tomatoes in the back yard and we vacationed in the Canadian Rockies. I couldn’t wait to get married. Then, for lack of a better analogy, I began to understand how allies who fight together to conquer an evil foe then fight each other. We were partners in the fight against my illness. After that, our differences became too much. We tried so hard to save it. We got engaged. We went to one counselor after another. We fought and cried. We took new jobs and moved three hours away. In the end, I felt like the car windshield wipers that start out in time with your song and then slowly go completely off.
We cancelled our wedding because I had my skull cut open and a tumor taken out of my head. We never rescheduled. I moved out the week before Thanksgiving.
I’m not going to discuss our dirty laundry in a public forum. But I will say that I tried absolutely everything I could, short of changing the essence of myself, before I made the decision to leave. The man I was to marry is a wonderful, incredible man. I don’t want to look back and say, “If only I’d done one more thing.” Hopefully, I won’t.
I know my health threats are different than most. But I will offer what advice I can for others thinking of calling off their own weddings, and for life in general.
1. Fund a savings account. I wasn’t planning on thousands of dollars in medical bills when I started thinking about how I could afford to move out. Fortunately I had money saved to do both, and it’s not because I have a sky-high salary. I can’t describe the peace of mind this gives me. (If you need to have a talk with yourself and/or your significant other about setting financial priorities, I highly recommend reading personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary with the Washington Post).
2. Do what you need to do to try and save your relationship. But realize when you’ve given it your all and when going any farther would mean compromising your principles. This could mean staying longer than you want to and going to counseling. But it also will let you walk away with more confidence in your decision.
3. Don’t ignore that voice deep down inside telling you to go. This might require taking off the pillows and whatever else you’ve used to muffle it for so long. Be still. Listen. Address it. It’s saying these things for a reason. Figure out why.
The peace I feel after calling off my wedding reminds me slightly of the relief I felt after paying off my massive credit card debt after college. It’s been very, very hard. I’ve had to make significant sacrifices—namely, my vision for the future and the man I thought would stand next me. I’m still fragile and need time to heal. But the calm confidence I have now is worlds better than giving off the image of a perfect relationship that, really, is not.
Photo by: Emily Takes Photos from the APW Flickr Pool