Grow Old With Me

 

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He handed me the gifts that he lovingly, yet haphazardly, wrapped in pretty tissue paper. As I tore one open, I saw a wooden picture frame decorated with a burlap bow.  Inside the frame was a picture of me and my husband, taken soon after I was diagnosed with cancer the second time.  It was one of my favorite pictures.  Then, I noticed the words written across the bottom of the frame.

Grow old with me

A sting of sadness fell upon my heart. It was a simple statement and something couples talked about when they made a commitment and said ‘I do’. They imagined the fairy tale that we all expected.  But for me, that simple statement, those 4 words, made my heart hurt when I read them.  I remembered walking down the aisle in that white dress. I remembered sitting on the beach on our honeymoon talking about plans for the future. We talked about buying a house we would make a home, where we would raise our children, and enjoy those quiet times together swinging our later years away on our  wraparound porch.

They were big dreams. Sweet dreams. Some of them came true.  We bought a house.  We made it a home.  We had 2 children, a girl and a boy.  We didn’t have a wraparound porch, or a swing; but we dreamed of buying a beach house with a porch and a swing one day. We had our ups and downs but all was right in our world.

And then it wasn’t.

It was a gorgeous August day when I found out I had breast cancer.  That was the first day those visions of me and my husband taking walks on the beach or enjoying an early dinner at a local diner slipped out of focus. Although it was a difficult time, we held on tight and we got through it.  Chemo, bald head, surgery …  all of it.  We made it to the other side, stronger than ever.  We put it behind us. We put the pieces back together.  I was okay and that vision of the porch swing was clear as day again.

And then it wasn’t.

Almost three years later, on a beautiful October day, we found out that my breast cancer returned to my bones and my lungs.  I had metastatic breast cancer and it was terminal.  My treatment was no longer an attempt to cure me, but to keep me stable and preserve my quality of life for as long as they could, for the time I had left.  According to statistics, that was about 33 months.

Wait. 33 months? What about all those plans we made? What about that porch?

Those visions of swinging away our lazy afternoons on the porch began to fade. It was a dark time. We were unsure and fearful of our future. How long did I have? How would my husband raise the kids on his own?  Would he be okay when I was gone? We had no idea what to expect. Along with more radiation and injections and medications, there was fear and heartache and desperation.

And then there wasn’t.

The medication was working. The scans were clear. The statistics were crushed.

The medication that was supposed to give me about a year of progression-free survival was still going strong. It was now 35 months later.  I was on my 31st cycle of those medications and my scans were still clear.  I was living a fairly normal life. I was happy. Aside from fatigue, aches and pains, and some stomach issues; I was doing great.

But we both knew that one day, that wouldn’t be the case.

One day, my symptoms would worsen.  My scans would show progression.  My health would fail.  Those visions of that porch would completely disappear.

So, this picture frame, inscribed with those 4 words.

Grow old with me

It wasn’t a simple sentiment. It was a hope, a dream, a prayer.

It was pleading. It was desperation.

Grow old with me 

Please.

As I held that picture frame in my hands, I realized something.  There was no question mark after those words. There was no punctuation at all. I was able to read those four words any way I wanted.

So, I chose to read them as a request.

Grow old with me

My husband didn’t like to talk about me being sick. He cared so much, so deeply, that he couldn’t imagine a future without me in it.  For him, even though he knew the statistics and my prognosis, that vision of us on the porch swing never blurred or slipped out of his focus.  Call it faith. Call it denial. It didn’t matter. To him, the dream of the two of us growing old together was as real on that day as it was on our honeymoon, almost 20 years ago.

Grow old with me

I found the perfect spot for that picture frame, next to one of our wedding photos.  I looked at that much younger couple smiling back at me.  Over the years, we celebrated with joy and we grieved with sadness, and we felt every emotion in between. We had good years and bad, but I wanted more.

I read those words again…

Grow old with me

I closed my eyes and said a little prayer. I let go of the fear and uncertainty that had settled into my heart.  I didn’t know how much time we had left, but I wanted those dreams, not fear, to reclaim my heart.  I wanted to be like my husband. I wanted to look ahead to our future, expecting all of our dreams to come true. As I took a deep breath, and cleansed my soul, that fuzzy picture once again came into view.

I saw the water. I saw the porch. I saw my husband sitting next to me.

“Grow old with me?” he asked.

“I would love nothing more.”

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Note:

This post was written based on the monthly theme from H&L Writes, a new monthly membership program specifically for writers by Holl & Lane Magazine.

 

 

Author: Jennifer Lilley Collins

I'm a Mom, wife, daughter, and friend navigating life with metastatic breast cancer while finding joy in the everyday and spreading hope, love, and inspiration along the way.

3 thoughts on “Grow Old With Me”

  1. Love this. Yes, you can both still declare your love and commitment to each other, no matter what. No prognosis should ever force you forget the plans you dreamed together. What an awesome guy you have.

    Like

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