Five years ago this summer, Dan asked me to marry him and I said “Yes”. Dan was in the middle of chemo and I was beginning a new career. Dan had several months left of aggressive treatment in Pennsylvania and I had just a few weeks before my move-in date in Virginia.
When Dan and I made the choice to get married, we could not know for sure what obstacles lay between us and the future we had planned. Yes, he was in the middle of cancer treatment when we got engaged and, yes, it was a three-year protocol with various phases of more and less aggressive drugs along with frequent, painful procedures. Sure, Dan was in a high-risk group with statistically ominous survival rates. Of course, we suspected that our “normal” would be slightly different from that of our 20-something peers for whom cancer was not in their vocabulary. We knew all of those things.
And we did it anyway.
Dan and I knew that our wedding day would be different. We knew it would be hard to plan while I lived in Virginia learning a new job and city and while Dan lived in Pennsylvania conquering cancer. We knew there was a chance Dan would have a “chemo-y” day, as he dubbed them, on our wedding day, and that he’d have to fight through side effects. We knew, worse yet, that he could be in the hospital with an infection or complication and we’d have to postpone the day altogether. We knew all of those things.
And we got married anyway.
Dan and I tied the proverbial knot on April 10, 2010, on a warmer than average early spring day. It was the happiest day of our lives, just like the storybooks. We made our vows at a beautiful Mass and celebrated over drinks and dancing at our reception, surrounded by family and friends. Looking back more deeply on that day, I can see the foreshadowing of how cancer would insert itself into our lives, how it would make itself comfortable no matter the occasion, and then how we would pour it a glass of champagne and say, “cheers.” When I really look back, I remember how Dan took breaks between dancing because his back was sore from a recent spinal tap procedure, how he didn’t eat all of his meal because the chemo pills he’d taken that morning weren’t sitting well. I remember how Dan fell asleep as soon as the reception was over because he hadn’t gotten his usual nap that day. I also remember the sunshine, the family, the friends, the love. I remember the singing, the dancing, the laughing. I remember Dan.
I remember the joy.
Our choice to get married in the throws of chemo was deliberate and delicately considered. We got engaged in the summer, about six weeks after his diagnosis. He had just completed the initial phase of chemo and we’d gotten news that the leukemia was in remission so he could move on to the next “phase” of the protocol. We were in love, Dan had had the ring for months, and we wanted to proclaim to the world our commitment to marry. We knew that being married was the foundation of real, true, complete happiness; so our decision became simple. I knew that it was statistically likely that Dan would spend the rest of his life with me, but that I wouldn’t spend mine with him. We chose marriage, eager to embrace the challenges and sacrifices that we knew it would bring, in the midst of illness.
We loved being married. We worked through the challenges and we gracefully sacrificed. We loved each other and we loved love.
Saying “yes” to Dan was the best decision I ever made.
Hanna believes that love is the reason Dan fought as long and hard as he did. She believes that love heals, and hopes that through her story others will learn to find joy, big and small, in every single day.
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