Chapter 29 – In Sickness and In Health

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
Lao Tzu

I could not have come through my Myeloma trials and difficulties without the love and support of my husband Bryan. I sometimes think the diagnosis is much harder for family and loved ones. They stand with you, watching you as you wrestle with the diagnosis of cancer and then they have to stand and watch, feeling helpless as you go through the most awful treatment. They are the real unsung heroes in any cancer story. People tell me all the time that I am brave and inspiring but my hero and the person who got me through my treatment was my husband Bryan.

Our backstory

I met Bryan for the first time in 1993. We were introduced by a mutual friend – a penpal friend of mine. We started dating about two weeks after we met. I kind of knew after a few days of meeting Bryan that I was feeling different about us. I was feeling things I had never felt before. Long before our first date, I kind of knew that he was going to be the man I married. We just clicked.

Our first date was a Howard Jones midnight at the Olympia Concert. I had grown up in love with Howard Jones’s music so when I saw he was coming to Ireland I had to go along to see if he still had the magic. It was a great concert and we left buzzing. The latter part of our first date consisted of us foiling a robbery taking place in the building just beneath my flat and having two burly Gardai (policemen) in the apartment with us for about two hours as they tried to coax the thieves down off the roof!!!! There were fire engines, police cars and an ambulance – it certainly was a date to remember.

We started dating steadily after that. I was living on my own in Dublin and Bryan was based in the Curragh in Co Kildare. We saw each other as often as we could. Bryan was even known to cycle from The Curragh to where I lived in Harold’s Cross in Dublin to see me.

I met his family in October of that year and he met mine in the November of that year. Sentences which had begun with ‘me’ for years suddenly became ‘me and Bryan’.

I should point out that even though I knew after two weeks that Bryan would be the man I would marry, I didn’t tell him that. That would have frightened anyone away. It scared me too as I had never felt that way about anyone up to that point.

“There is never a time or place for true love. It happens accidentally, in a heartbeat, in a single flashing, throbbing moment.”
Sarah Dessen, The Truth About Forever

We both knew it was something serious and in February 1994 Bryan proposed and I said yes. We told only close friends and omitted to tell family as we feared they might think we were moving too quickly.

By anyone’s standards we probably were. Both my sisters were dating people for five years each at that time. And in I would come with a marriage proposal and an engagement on the table.

We started to save for our house from that moment. We went ring shopping and announced our engagement officially in October 1994. We bought and moved into our first house together in June 1995 and we got married on 29 December 1995 in my home town of Belturbet, Co Cavan.


We had bright blue skies and snow on 29 December 1995 which was one of the happiest days of my life. I remember our wedding vows so well – we said these lines to one another as part of our vows:

“With love and joy I accept you Bryan as my husband
I will stand by your side in good times and in bad”

For so many years we had good times. Baby number one arrived on 5 April 1997 and baby number two arrived on 19 August 2004. We lost a child on Good Friday 2003 and that was a sad and painful time for us.

Emma born
Emma as a newborn
Cathal born
Cathal as a newborn

But we had our perfect little family of a girl and a boy. The next step was to move to a bigger house to give the kids more room and we did that in September 2005. All was going well for us as a family. Neither of us had been ill before. I had an issue with asthma but we rarely went to the doctor or the hospital and we were blessed that we had two really healthy kids.

I am not really a crier. I am a strong person. When something bad happens I am more likely to be the one busy doing something or if I am physically hurt you will find me laughing my way through the pain. If I was ever in pain or in trouble I would always ask Bryan not to be too nice to me because I knew it would be the straw that would make me break down and cry.

It was during the Christmas of 2006 that everything changed for us as a couple and as a family. We are a Christmas family and we make a huge fuss in the house for it. But from early December I was feeling ill. I was hiding just how bad I was feeling and  I knew that Bryan was doing his best to hide his concerns. We muddled through Christmas but by our wedding anniversary on 29 December I was sick – I had no appetite and anything I ate didn’t stay down.

On 1 January when I almost collapsed in the local supermarket, Bryan said enough was enough and he insisted I go to the doctor. When we got the terrible news that I was in kidney failure, we had no idea where it would all end. Neither of us mentioned the word cancer as we just didn’t know enough about it at the time to even suspect it.

When the diagnosis came through finally on 10 January 2007 I delivered the news to Bryan on the phone. He dropped everything in work and made the journey out. While talking to him on the phone I had asked him now to be too nice to me as I needed not to cry at the moment. I needed not to give in to the tears. I needed to feel I was in control. Bryan arrived to the hospital about 40 minutes later and took me in his arms. Of course I cried and through my tears said, “I told you not to be too nice to me”.

“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.”
Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

All the way through the treatment he was there for me. He was wishing me well, willing me well. He took charge of the running of the house and took over all sorts of chores from me. I somehow have ended up never having to lift an iron since I was diagnosed! Well there has to be some perks.

I found some texts recently on an old phone. They are from 2007 when I was in hospital at various times.

10 January 2007 (day of diagnosis)
Love u. Get a good night’s sleep. Me and your Mam will be up mid morning. Bryan

14 July 2007
Feeling any better? Bryan

14 July 2007
You’re almost there now. Just remember how much we all love you. Try to get some sleep. Bryan

I received texts like this every day from Bryan. He was faced with some terrible sights when he came to see me in the hospital. He never missed a day.

He more than fulfilled his side of the marriage vows in terms  of the ‘in sickness and in health’ bit.

I know that serious illness and trauma can cause friction and fracture in a relationship and I am grateful that we are as together as ever and looking forward to celebrating 20 years of marriage on 29 December this year.

rome 2
In Rome together

There’s a quote from F Scott Fitzgerald which says:

“I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity, and her flaming self respect. And it’s these things I’d believe in, even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicions that she wasn’t all she should be. I love her and it is the beginning of everything.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald

I am borrowing the last line from that and making it my own when I say:

“I love him and that is the beginning of everything”

I  have been blessed by my marriage and all it has brought into my life. I realise nowadays that this can be an exception and therefore it is something to be cherished and valued.

All I want for us now is to grow into an old married couple together and to be able to look back on this time of sickness as a small blip in a very big and wonderful life.

Emma and meIMG_0007FeetBrenda and Cathal birthday pic 2009


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