I fell in love with a woman. A woman who happens to have had cervical cancer and who is now a Cervivor. It was not our choice to be so disrupted by the fear and pain that comes with a diagnosis and treatment of cervical cancer – but it is my daily choice, to be with Ana, to be her lover, friend, and champion and enjoy the reciprocation of being her partner. I am a very lucky and proud man!
We are near our 40s, but I happened to have “met” Ana over 20 years ago when we were in high school. I use quotation marks because we never actually spoke face to face or even made eye contact with each other. But you see, Ana was a cheerleader and two years older than me, so I sure knew who she was…and as you may have guessed, she had absolutely no idea I even existed.
Ana and I went about our separate lives, each obtaining degrees and starting our careers. During this time Ana had two wonderful children (who I now proudly call my own), but I had no idea our paths would ever cross again. Yet, as I reflect on the random events in life that brought us together, it all seems so serendipitous that there must be a higher purpose/meaning to it all.
As fate would have it, we began working together at the same school – I as a counselor and she as the Special Education Specialist. It was at this point I really began to develop a deep friendship with Ana. We had lots of excuses to talk and joke around, but she and I seemed to spend more time together than I did with most other colleagues. People began to ask about our relationship and if anything more than friendship was there. We dismissed them as silly rumors, but as the time we spent together increased, so did our bond.
During our work together, Ana received the life-altering diagnosis of cervical cancer. She went out on medical leave, and I missed her. I was worried but didn’t truly understand what she was going through – not only as an individual with cancer who was scared and worn down but also as a single mother who had two children who needed her now and in the future. We stayed in contact during her treatment, when she had the energy to do so. I felt a strange honor, to have been called on to offer support in this dark and uncertain time. I knew our friendship was deepening and it was becoming more than just a friendship.
Thankfully, Ana is tough as they come and had successful medical interventions. She was cleared for cancer after six months of treatment and was able to return to work – life was supposed to return to normal.
She and I had been through some intense times together, and we had each moved to different schools, so when she invited me to her birthday party, my stomach was full of butterflies – is this really going to happen? Am I going to date a mother of two and someone who has been through such serious medical scares? “What am I doing?” was a constant thought.
But I sat with my thoughts. I shared them with my family and friends. I shared them with Ana. I ultimately settled on the fact that, I love this woman, I want to be in her life and the lives of her kids, and what would have happened if we found out a diagnosis down the road instead of knowing it now? Would that have made my choice any different? I knew that life has no guarantees for the future, and I do my best to live by the Serenity Prayer – changing what I can and accepting what I cannot – and I choose to be with Ana and accept her as she is – in all of her awesomeness and humanness.
Being with Ana (who I can now proudly call my fiancé) and the kids has brought me some of my most intense moments of joy and happiness, but it has been tough being a caretaker at times. About two months after we began dating, we received the devastating news that Ana needed to have a hysterectomy, and then more complications followed that. The first year of our dating life was spent in and out of hospitals and ERs, with Ana in almost constant pain, and with much of our times spent just sitting and talking because that is all the strength she had to do. This isn’t how most relationships start. But it forced us to lean on one another and our bond became stronger instantly because of what we endured together as a couple.
I have learned so much from Ana and her network of Cervivors – what it means to be resilient, how to live with purpose in the face of fear, and how to be honest, often brutally honest, about how life has been forever changed due to the diagnosis, treatment, recovery, side effects, and how all of this sparked in many a deep sense of purpose towards advocacy and public health awareness. And this learning has not been easy. This is not the way life was “supposed” to be. Cancer was not in my dreams of the future when I thought of how my life would turn out. Yet, despite the struggles, which I do not wish anyone to go through, I have found my partner in this world and I’m forever grateful for having Ana in my life. She is amazing, and she has suffered. But it is this combination of the beautiful and the ugly parts of life that make it what it is and make her the woman I love.
To the partners, lovers, caretakers of these wonderful women, life can be great if you choose to see it that way. I make conscious efforts to remember that nothing in life is guaranteed, yet I am empowered enough to know that I can find joy in any moment if I choose to look for beauty, strength, connection, compassion and take the time to truly appreciate what it means to be with someone in this life together. Please know that despite what life throws at you (and your partner), you have choices to make. I make the choice every day to be with Ana and the kids, and I couldn’t be happier with the woman who came into my life, and who now is – my life.
Jeff is the proud fiancé of a Cervivor, and happy step-dad to two lovely and energetic children. He calls Palo Alto, CA his home and works as a middle school counselor in the district he grew up attending. Jeff is also in private practice as a therapist where he enjoys serving teens and their families as they work on improving their lives or developing acceptance and peace. Jeff was honored to share his story with the Cervivor community.