I wasn't ready to deal with my partner's illness, but we're stronger now than ever
I don’t know if I’m ready to share this story, to be perfectly honest with all of you.
I thought that now, almost two years later, I’d be ready, so I began to write the story of dating my current partner for just under a month when she was diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I wanted to tell my story to help any potential reader who may find themselves in my position. But it’s a hard story to tell.
Then again, I wasn’t ready to date someone with a serious illness. I wasn’t ready for afternoons spent in a chemo room playing Scrabble (and losing every time, by the way). I wasn’t ready to navigate the beginning of a relationship on top of navigating the politics of cancer. I wasn’t ready for cancer.
Of course, I had a choice. And given that choice again, I wouldn’t choose something else. While I personally wasn’t planning on bailing on my new relationship just because Danielle was sick, my plans, of course, were not the only ones to consider. I can remember a conversation we finally had after what felt like weeks of dancing around the issue, when in reality it had been maybe a week or two since learning the news. I wasn’t ready to have that conversation. That “So… what are we?” talk that everyone dreads pales in comparison to the “You don’t have to stay because of the cancer” talk, trust me.
I wasn’t ready for the barrage of opinions from coworkers, friends, and virtual strangers. Upon sharing the news that the person I just started dating was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s, I heard everything from “You’ll find someone else,” from a coworker, to “Danielle is so lucky to have you,” from several well-meaning folks. Both responses are weird. The first response assumes I will bail on this situation while the second assumes I am in it for the long haul. I was not prepared to sign up for either option just yet.
We had been dating just over a month at the time of her diagnosis, and I knew I really liked Danielle. I knew I wanted to keep dating her. But I didn’t know that I wanted to keep dating her for an undetermined amount of time just yet. It feels harsh to say now, after three years together, but there was a time when I wasn’t ready to sign up for a potential lifetime together.
I wasn’t ready to face the mortality of someone I was falling in love with. I wasn’t ready to spend the night in the hospital, watching every last bit of strength drain out of my girlfriend. I wasn’t ready to plan our lives around rounds of chemo or the immune shots that made Danielle feel so shitty. I just wasn’t ready for any of it. But the thing is, we didn’t have to do it all at once, and I think that’s why we made it through — we took it day by day, and we got to be together while we did.
And the thing is, I’m not sorry we went through any of this together — not for one second. While our story is not one that romanticizes serious illness, and is not a The Fault in Our Stars interpretation of what it’s like to date someone who has a disease that may kill them, we did make it through to the other side. (Though, side note, I thought I would be able to handle watching TFiOS with Danielle months after she completed her stem cell transplant. It did not go well.) I don’t believe that “everything happens for a reason” because there was absolutely no reason for my girlfriend to have cancer. But I do know that I made the right decision by choosing Danielle as a partner, despite how not ready I felt at the time, for any of it. We are just as in love as ever, and stronger because of all that we’ve been through.
I am happy to report that Danielle just got a clear PET scan, almost two years after her stem cell transplant. She’s working at a job she loves and worked hard to get, and we’re planning on moving in together in a few months. To be honest, I don’t know if I’m ready for that either. But I do know that sometimes the best things happen to us when we’re not ready.
Melissa Nesi lives in New Jersey (for a few more weeks before she moves to Pennsylvania), where she works from home. She has a degree in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, which she mostly uses to internally argue with other people’s Facebook posts. She and her sisters can recite all of the dialogue from A League of Their Own. She loves her girlfriend, their pugalier, and the live-action Scooby Doo movie.