85: Pink Hibiscus

85: Pink Hibiscus

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

Pink Hibiscus

Grow old with me! The best is yet to be.

~Robert Browning

My fortieth birthday fell on a sunny April spring day. The rose and lilac scents began to drive away the memories of the snowy winter. I looked forward with hope, but one dream began to slowly fade. I was single and felt my prime fading away. Dreams of husband and children filling the quietness of my home became more and more out of grasp. Sadness crept over me; loneliness surrounded me. Over the next year, a pain began to take over my body, then fatigue and a feeling something wasn’t right. I visited several doctors. Eventually, one had the answer.

“We found a tumor. It is most likely cancer,” the doctor said.

“Is it life-threatening?” I asked as tears welled in my eyes.

“It is quite possible. We won’t know until the surgery,” he replied.

I placed my dreams on hold, not knowing if there would be another birthday, let alone a husband in my future. After surgery to remove the tumor, I was declared cancer-free. Life moved on with a new normal.

Flowers gave me hope during that time — the hibiscus being my favorite. It brought me visions of beaches, warm sand, and happiness. Four years later, a picture I had of a pink hibiscus flower caught a man’s eyes. We met, spent time together, and fell in love.

“I knew if you loved the hibiscus that you would understand me,” he said. He was from Jamaica.

He told me he wanted to be with me forever. At forty-five, my dreams were finally coming true. We talked about our future. I was so happy. One day, the doctors thought they had found another tumor in my body. I had more tests, and I was fine. As I was coming out of the doctor’s office, there was a message from my dad on my phone.

“Remember the lump on my neck?” my dad asked. “The test came back. It is cancer: Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” he said through his tears. I began to shake. I cried, knowing what he would have to go through — the pain, the needles. His treatment would be chemotherapy. He began to fight the fight. My new boyfriend was by our side. He was the first person I called, and he held me when I cried.

Four months later, my boyfriend told me he wanted me to meet his mom and grandma, whom he called Mamma. We booked the tickets for the Caribbean paradise and planned a few days on our own at the beach town of Negril. He had a doctor’s appointment a few days before our flight to follow up on some tests. He called me at work.

“I didn’t want to worry you. The tests confirmed what the doctor thought. It is prostate cancer,” he said. The wind was knocked out of me. The ugly word was invading my life again. The disease invaded the two most important men in my life at the same time. We went on the trip. We didn’t tell his family. We were in denial as we sat on the beach watching the clear blue waves lap against the shore. The breeze softly stroked my skin. I turned my face into the breeze, and a pink hibiscus flower caught my eye. It slowly waved back and forth, calming me.

On an April night two months later, he got down on his knee, looked at me with his beautiful brown eyes, and held up a vintage platinum ring. The hand-engraved band with the simple, elegant diamond turned my dream into reality.

“I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied, with tears in my eyes.

My dad finished his last treatment that month and went into remission. My fiancé had surgery four months later in July. The needles and pain were back in my life. I held him as he felt the pain. The prognosis was encouraging. The cancer was removed. The healing began, and the reality of another new normal entered my life.

The wedding planning began. Colors were blue and purple, his favorite and mine. Engagement photos were taken on the beach with a pink hibiscus flower tucked behind my ear. Six months later, in a garden full of trees with fall leaves blazing reds and yellows, my dad walked me down the aisle toward my new husband. His silver hair had grown back, and he was tan from the Indian summer sun. My husband-to-be smiled at us as we walked toward him. The three survivors embraced each other, surrounded by loved ones, and stepped into our dreams and joy of the future.

~Shelly Bleggi Linton

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