51: Love, College, and Chemo

51: Love, College, and Chemo

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

Love, College, and Chemo

And if we ever leave a legacy it’s that we loved each other well.

~Indigo Girls

I was one of those happy people. David and I started dating during the second semester of our freshman year of college. Our love was that flawless kind of young love where life never gets in the way. We had years ahead of us to hold hands between classes, kiss under the bell tower at our university, and lie around in bed for hours talking about our future. After three weeks I knew I would marry him.

We went through college having a relationship that I could barely believe could be true. We never fought; David was too calm and gentle. I would have done anything for him and he would have done anything for me, but neither of us ever took advantage of that. He was my best friend, my rock, and the source of endless hours of laughter and happiness.

After three years together, David started to feel sick at the beginning of the semester. He would be out of breath after running a short distance, and he was always tired. After going to the health center, they told him he had bronchitis and sent him home. After all, what 21-year-old college guy isn’t tired and out of shape? I remember lying in bed with him and noticing faint bruises on his arms. His heartbeat seemed too fast, so during that week I slept with my hand over his heart just to make sure he was okay. He said he was fine, but I had a pit in my stomach and knew that something was wrong. Really wrong. The next day he called me at work and said, “Honey, it’s me, I don’t want you to worry but I went back to the health center and they are sending me over to the hospital to get some tests done. Everything is going to be fine.” I really thought it would be. After all, we loved each other way too much for it to end up any other way. The next day David was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. In true David fashion, always caring about me more than anything, he turned to me and said, “Sorry I got leukemia.... ”

He had eight rounds of chemo and a stem cell transplant. We spent our last semester of college in the hospital watching movies and cuddling in his hospital bed. The nurses used to come in and tell us to please stop laughing so loudly because we were disturbing the other patients. Life was bad, but our love was good. When he came home from his transplant he was in remission and we were so happy. We moved in together and started talking about getting married after I finished graduate school. Life was on its way to being as normal as it can be for two people in their early twenties who have just looked death in the face. After seven months of clean scans and good blood tests, his doctor noticed that his thymus (a gland in the chest that I’d never heard of) was enlarged and that they needed to take it out. He said this was from the chemo. I’m not sure why, but when David told me about this seemingly harmless news, I sobbed. As happy as we were during those in-between months, I think deep down I was terrified and waiting for the other shoe to drop. David went in for his surgery, and after seeing the mass in his chest, his doctor told us that his leukemia was back.

Five more months of chemo and another bone marrow transplant, this time from an unrelated donor. David made it through the transplant and came home to our apartment. We both lay on our bed and cried with joy that he had survived and our lives could begin (again). Nine days later, on Halloween, he was admitted to the hospital again because a virus in his bladder was making him really sick and he needed some IV nutrition to regain strength. After three days in the hospital he seemed to be getting worse. Three days later, on my twenty-fourth birthday, he woke himself up long enough to write me an e-mail about how much he loved me and how I was a strong woman who could do anything. I sat on the edge of his bed that day and held his hand as he struggled to open his eyes long enough to tell me happy birthday. On November 7th in the middle of the night, I held my David’s hand as he took his last breath.

The days and months that followed are still blurry to me. The first time I went back to our apartment after he died I lay on his side of the bed and sobbed as I looked at his tennis shoes on the floor, one lying on its side where he had last taken them off. Five hundred people came to the life celebration that we had instead of a funeral. I looked around in amazement at all the lives he touched. I would lie in bed and wonder if it was possible to actually die of grief. I wouldn’t have cared if I did.

It has been a year and a half since David passed away. I still have days where all I can do is cry about David and the life we could have had but I have been able to find joy in life again. I got a new job that I love, moved into my own apartment (did you know when you live alone you have to kill bugs yourself?!), and even started dating again. Recently for the first time, I looked up at the sky while I was driving to work and actually noticed how gorgeous the sunrise was. I know David would want me to have a beautiful and happy life so I am trying my best to live in a way that honors the kind of person he was. I wanted my love for him to be enough to save him, but really, his love for me is what saves me every day.

~Lisa Tehan

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