We danced to “La Vie En Rose” and Smash Mouth’s “All-Star”. We served a three-tier red velvet cake that we never got to taste, sprung for the Mezcal to make smokey Negronis, and passed out to the season premiere of “Rick of Morty” in our Las Vegas hotel room. The next day we headed to the Little Neon Chapel because, in all our wedding planning, we forgot to get an actual marriage license. Silly Millennials. On the way to the courthouse, there was a sudden desert thunderstorm and we ran through the rain like a Nicholas Sparks film. In a word, it was magical. Like late-capitalism nineties kids, we got two weddings instead of one. And I loved them both.
But it was short-lived. While most newlyweds vow to love each other “in sickness and in health” they also imagine their promise to be cashed in 50 years down the road. In the currency of years, we only got two.
It was me. I’m the one who got sick. In 2019 I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer, high-grade small-cell neuroendocrine to be exact. There are fewer than 200 cases per year. There is no cure. At Stage 3C my odds of survival were just 7%.
It’s a funny feeling, to be told you have cancer so young. It makes the world stop and speed up all at the same time. Suddenly, you’re inundated with doctor appointments, medical teams, and imaging requests. It’s all very logical and succinct. Meetings, exams, blood tests, Oh My!
Just another busy day in the life of a modern thirty-something! No big deal. We’ll push through this like we do everything else in this dumpster-fire world.
But this time, we were in over our heads, we just didn’t know it yet.
On the way to my first PET scan, I drank a strawberry-banana smoothie. As any veteran cancer patient knows, that’s a mistake. You’re supposed to fast before a PET scan to keep your blood glucose levels low. But I didn’t know. I’d never had cancer before. My husband and I took Instagram photos and captioned them, “PET scan time. Send good vibes! Fingers crossed for #clearscans,” as if we were sharing a trip to Disneyland. It seems silly now. At the time, it never actually dawned on us that I was being scanned to see if cancer had metastasized to my entire body. That I could be months from death.
The scan came back with “local disease” only. We expected nothing less. After all, I couldn’t die, could I? My tumor was only two centimeters. We caught it early. We were the lucky ones. Until we weren’t.
I received my final staging a few weeks later: 3C. Not so good. I posted about it on Instagram. The odds of me dying now greatly outweighed the odds of me living.
I went through seven months of treatment. I lost my uterus, my ovaries, my fallopian tubes, sixteen lymph nodes, and one-third of my vagina. I did six rounds of 21-day cycle chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation, and three sessions of brachytherapy, (imagine a radioactive dildo ripping up your insides).
My husband came with me to all my oncology appointments. It was surreal. He missed work, cried with me, comforted me, and rubbed my feet at 2 am when I was nauseous.
When we learned I would never have children he said “That’s okay, all I want is you.” When he learned I would undergo menopause in my early 30s he said “That’s okay, all I want is you.” And when we couldn’t have penetrative sex anymore because the radiation and chemotherapy destroyed my vaginal tissue he said “That’s okay, all I want is you.”
All I want is my silly life back. I want to go back to our “date nights” sipping overpriced cocktails in mid-century modern-themed LA bars. I want to have sleepy Saturday morning sex at 1 pm because we can’t be bothered to get up any earlier. I want to stop crying at night because I’m scared I’m going to die.
I want so many things. But my husband, all he wants is me. He takes this all in stride. He believes in the impossible. He believes we have decades left together and we’ll be happier than we’ve ever been before. We talk about traveling to the South of France or Switzerland for the summer. We daydream about where we’ll live when “this is all over”. But what I’ve learned is, that it’s never really over. There is no day where you get to relax and say, “That’s it I’m cancer-free.” I’ve been no evidence of disease for 2.5 years but I still worry about recurrence, low blood counts, aching joints, menopause, and disfigured genitals. I worry all the time. Not him. He’s the eternal source of light. The companion you dream about, the one who only shows up in romantic movies because real humans can’t possibly be that supportive. But he is.
We started dating when he was 23 and I was 28. He told me early on that he didn’t play games and that he would always be honest with me. He talked about our future together and I laughed, “I can’t date you, you’re 23!” But in my journals, I wrote something different. I wrote down that I was in love with him the moment I met him. That I saw his soul and realized he was perhaps the greatest man I had ever met in my life.
Turns out, I was right. Meeting him is perhaps the most wonderful and lucky thing that ever happened to me.
Sometimes I think about whether he’ll remarry if I die. If he’ll have another meet-cute with another, younger woman. He’s only 31 now. He could build the family cancer took from us. Perhaps he’ll think of me on my death anniversary, perhaps he’ll cry on his new wife’s shoulder. She’ll support him unconditionally because that’s the kind of love he evokes in other people. They’ll drink IPAs and dance to “La Vie En Rose” in their mid-century modern kitchen. When his kids are applying for college he’ll fondly remember I went to Yale, maybe he’ll visit it for the first time ever. My life will become a blip on his radar as if he’s been the protagonist in this movie the entire time. After all, the dead wife only appears in the first five minutes, right? She’s a passing thought, a character-building trait for his story. These are the morbid thoughts that pass through me sometimes.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. “I don’t think I’ll ever remarry,” he tells me. “You never know when love will strike,” I retort. “Plus I want you to be happy.” And I mean it.
That’s when he looks at me, with his non-prescription hipster glasses designed to block “blue light” — as if that’s a thing — and says “but all I want is you.” And I believe him because he vowed to love me in sickness and in health and I know he meant it. We’re in this together. Like the scrappy, idealistic, Millennials we are.
For those who don’t know, I was diagnosed with Stage 3C Small Cell Neuroendocrine cancer in October 2019 at age 34. There are less than 200 cases per year. There is no research, funding, or clinical trials for this cancer. If you would like to learn more please visit https://necervix.com/facts/.