July 2, 2013: I was working on a motion for summary judgment when the doctor came in to tell us that the results from the liver biopsy were "sinister." I processed what he was saying, closed my computer and walked over to the hospital bed. I sat down next to Aaron and held his hand. When the doctor left, Aaron looked at me with fear and realization in his eyes. I think he may have apologized at that point, like he had done something wrong by being sick. Then, with tears in his eyes, he told me, "I just wanted to grow old with you." He went on to lament that he may not see 30, at which time I'm pretty sure my exact words were, "Stop it, my God, stop it." I couldn't have him writing the end of his story, of our story… not yet.
Things did not get easier after that. The "sinister" doctor had actually tried to sugar coat things by telling us that more tests would be needed to say for certain that the lesions on Aaron's liver were malignant; the GI doctor who came to see us later, however, explained (in not so gentle terms), that the biopsy had in fact revealed an adenocarcinoma. The tests were needed to find the point of origin--Aaron's cancer did not start in his liver. They came to get Aaron for a colonoscopy and upper endoscopy first thing the next morning--they checked his entire GI tract--and the colonoscopy revealed an aggressive tumor in his colon. I will never forget the GI doctor explaining that there was treatment available, treatment that "might even give him years."
Aaron began chemo late that night. On the 4th of July, we (including my parents, Aaron's parents, my sister and Aaron's sister Renae and her friend Stacy) watched fireworks from Aaron's 7th floor hospital room, which faced Vulcan Park. The next day they had scheduled an upper endoscopic ultrasound to look at Aaron's pancreas. The doctor hadn't told Aaron yet, but they were worried that the cancer may have spread into Aaron's pancreas (which it thankfully had not). But the night of the 4th, after everyone left and Aaron fell asleep, the reality of our situation and fear about the ultrasound the next day took over, and I snuck out to one of the benches in the area by the elevators and had a complete breakdown. Aaron eventually woke up and texted me, asking where I'd gone. When I came back, I crawled into the hospital bed next to him and he told me not to do that, not to leave the room to be upset. He reiterated what I had said to him so many times that week—that we were in this together.
Aaron and I grew a lot during those two weeks. We'd go for walks around the hall, hand in hand. We'd stand by one of the big hall windows, Aaron with his arms around me, not saying anything because we didn't need to. We talked, laughed, and cried. We loved having so much family in town, but at the end of each night, I'd often curl up next to him for a little bit, just for some normalcy of us.
I felt protective over him like I never had before with anyone. I hardly ever left the room because I did not want to be gone if a doctor came in. I wanted to have all the information so I might understand how to help him. I wanted to be the one Aaron turned to for comfort, laughter, support, and most of all, love. Of course, anyone who saw the way Aaron looked at me from day one knows that I definitely had that.
They say you learn a lot about relationships when they are tested. Aaron and I were engaged when he was diagnosed. We were already in love, and I had truly never been happier. At the time, I thought I had learned about love. Aaron had already shown me so much about what it meant to have someone love me selflessly and intentionally. In return, I had learned how to let my guard down and fall deeply in love. I can say with confidence that we each made each other happier than either of us had ever been before.
Yet in the coming months, we both learned so much more about the kind of love that God truly wants for us: the kind of love God has for us. Aaron talked often about how must strength our love gave him, how our faith-based love gave him a drive to fight even on the hardest days. During those months we cherished every good day and held on to each other through the rest. Aaron told me so often how much I meant to him; even when he got to a point where toxins started invading his mind, he still wanted me, asked for me, and loved me. And that made it easy for me, during the months he was sick and especially in the end, to do what seemed hard—taking care of him on a macro level, loving him so much that I would do anything for him. It was second nature to me at that point, just as I know it would have been for Aaron if the situation had been flipped.
That’s what has made the heartbreak so hard to get over. This was not an ordinary love. It was not perfect, as no love is. But it was selfless, caring, thoughtful, passionate, comforting, spiritual, and fantastic. That’s the reason people feel drawn to our story and have since the beginning (and especially since our wedding on July 7th). I hope people are inspired by what love can look like; pop culture is full of shallow love and mere infatuation, and it becomes easy to get discouraged about the state of love in our society.
But there are still men out there like Aaron—Aaron, whose love was obvious with every look, every action; Aaron, who always put me first and just wanted, more than anything in the world, for me to be happy. There is still love that radiates from a person’s pores and brings such happiness and joy that people see it in every smile, every laugh, basically everything she does. Of course, this is a kind of love that God needs to be a part of, or it is not complete. Aaron talked often about how our love was different--it was better--because it was rooted in our faith. And he was right. In the end, our love changed mine and Aaron’s lives forever, and I hope our story touches or inspires others. I am so grateful that it got to be my story.