I recently started dating the most incredible guy ever. From meeting me through friends several months ago, he knew I had cancer. Once we started dating, I tried to push him away by dumping all the cancer stuff, but he blessedly stayed.
Right now, we are three days into a 14 day quarantine, as he went on a guys trip to Florida, that pre-dated dating me. And I freaked out on the phone. I was very upset that he got to go to Florida, that he was even thinking of future trips to go snowboarding, or to the beach, or to watch his beloved NASCAR, when I was stuck in the same place I’ve been for the last six months – my home. Prior to this self-enforced quarantine, I was thrilled to add his house to one of the few places I could add to my “safe” list. I spoke with my oncologist before dating him, and she agreed it was OK to let him into my bubble. But Tuesday night, curled up on the couch, I hated the beige walls of my house. I hated staring at the purple flowers he got for my birthday. I hated everything about my life in that moment. I wanted to be with him. I wanted to leave my house. I wanted to go anywhere else but my house. He talked with me well past his bedtime. I hung up then cried for a while, for no apparent reason before finally falling asleep.
Two weeks earlier, I had freaked out on him in-person. In the middle of watching Despicable Me, I got super upset and overwhelmed. I didn’t even know why, I just knew I felt very sad. He tried to ask me the right questions, but my only answer was, “I don’t know”.
But last night I had an epiphany on my freak-outs in this brand new relationship. The common denominator? Elephants and Tea articles I wrote. The article publish dates coincided with my episodes. And I realized they were triggering me. Having lived most of 26 years without a boyfriend, my cancer story has been mine to own and mine alone to process. I always get upset, and sad and weird when I read a moving E&T piece, or hear a friend has passed, or know that one of my articles is going to be published. But now I have someone to share my feelings with, and it’s crazy hard and scary. I don’t want him to see me vulnerable or upset, but I do want him to better understand how cancer up-ended my life.
I didn’t realize the depth still of my own emotional dance with cancer till he was in my life. It’s not just me against the cancer struggle. It’s us against the cancer struggle. It’s been almost 9 years since my initial diagnosis, but the emotional toll that cancer takes is still draining me.
And I’ve come to realize the right person can deal with it. The right person will hold you while you are overwhelmed and don’t even know why. The right person will stay up to talk to you two hours after their bedtime after a super long day of work. The right person will calmly tell you everything that is good in your life. The right person won’t be scared by your temperamental meltdowns and taking out your frustrations on them. And I’m more grateful than I’ve ever been.
A Note from Jen: We are now coming up on our one year dating anniversary!! It’s still hard, but I’m learning to let him in more and share my cancer life with him. It continues to be a learning curve for us to deal with cancer together. But it’s also incredible to be with someone willing to learn and grow with me, and who continues to want to make it work.