I know that this post is a departure from our “13 things” theme. But it was important for me to share this post with our community. I have said in the past that FORCE was founded on the principle that “no one should face hereditary cancer alone.” I have been blessed with a partner who has always supported my choices. My wish is for all people facing hereditary cancer to find the support they need. Please remember that you can always reach out to the FORCE community, we are here for you.
When I was 19, I liked to gamble. My dad would take me to the casinos in Las Vegas and show me how. Twenty-one was my game and nothing felt better than hitting that blackjack. I always felt so lucky when I won.
I met you 29 years ago, at age 20, just barely out of my teens. I was still in undergraduate school and chasing my lifelong dream…to be a veterinarian. As dating turned into something more serious, I began to suspect how special you were. Still I had no idea how fortunate I was to find you. The back massages you gave me helped alleviate the knots as I spent hours hunched over books studying. You were working three jobs to help pay the bills.
When I was accepted into vet school, you dropped everything and left your friends to follow me as I continued following my dream. Vet school was more challenging than I expected academically and socially. You continued to support me through my all-night study marathons, and even after I graduated, with my 60 to 80 hour-per-week internship.
And on this day 21 years ago we eloped. Too busy to plan a wedding, we went to the County courthouse to trade our vows. We agreed it was the relationship and not the ceremony that makes a marriage. A year later you followed me home to Florida, far away from California, which you loved and far away from your Kentucky roots. My late evenings changed from all-nighters studying to late night emergency work at our busy practice. Still you supported me. And when we decided to expand our family and become parents, it was your devotion to fatherhood that allowed me to continue to grow my practice with a young child at home.
And as we prepared to expand our family even more, our lives took a very unexpected turn when I was diagnosed “out-of-the-blue” with breast cancer. You held my hand through my biopsies and surgeries and assured me I wouldn’t go through it alone. Mastectomy was recommended—my cancer was caught early but they couldn’t get it all with lumpectomy—you helped me research and you supported my decisions, even as you assured me you would love me with or without a reconstructed breast. Your patience and love hastened my recovery. When the unthinkable happened and my cancer came back in my lymph nodes a short nine months after treatment, I panicked. But you never wavered in your faith that all would be okay. You reassured me every step of the way that we were in this together.
When it was clear that the best medical decision was to move to another state for care at a major cancer center, you never questioned it. You packed up our house with our toddler in tow as we moved 1,100 miles away from our home, friends, and family for nine months. Together we faced medical debt exacerbated by my inability to work while in treatment. And when I learned I had a BRCA mutation, you took it in stride, even though it meant more decisions, surgeries, medical debt, travel, and risk. Your solid devotion and love lifted me through the roughest spots. My 16 years of survivorship are a testimony to the wisdom of our chosen path.
You loved me bald, nauseous, with a port coming out of my chest, and drains coming out of my hips. You held me as I grieved the loss of my fertility even as you grieved this loss yourself. You carried me through unrelenting uncertainty, post-treatment depression, loss of my libido, and oppressive anxiety.
You endorsed every decision I made. You must have felt alone at times, like the New Years Eve 13 years ago I spent starting a new organization while you were alone on the couch watching TV as the ball dropped over Times Square. Nine years ago, after all the training and sacrifices for my veterinary degree, when I changed my career to direct FORCE full time, you never showed any indication of doubt, recrimination, regret, or resentment. You never hinted that maybe these were rash decisions. You always saw the big picture. You were honored to help the families that had lost so much to cancer.
On this date in 2010 and 2011 you spent our anniversary volunteering and working your tail off at our FORCE conference. You were entirely immersed in it. And as our attendees sang “Happy Anniversary,” I knew that I could never repay your commitment and selflessness that has allowed me to follow my dreams.
Through the challenges, indecision, and uncertainty your love has always been the clear, shining beacon that has guided my way. When I stood up for social injustices, you always stood right beside me, shielding me from the fallout. Since we met, I have seldom felt alone or isolated. As you have always made clear, we are in this journey together.
Dan, I don’t need to gamble any more. I hit the jackpot when I met you. So on our lucky 21st anniversary I wanted to take a moment to thank you for being my best friend and my biggest supporter and for making my dreams possible. When I look at all the big things we have accomplished together—building a family, raising a child, advocating for a community—and I think of the moments of love, joy, and romance in between, I can see how truly special our relationship and life together are and how fortunate we are to have each other.