I met you when I was seventeen. I think I loved you even then. Eleven years later we were married. Two years later I was pregnant with Emily. Two years after that we had Jessica.
Our life is full of numbers. The good ones are the birthdays we’ve shared, the wedding anniversaries, all nine of them, and the parenting milestones, like the time Emily said ‘daddy’ at seven months. Then there are the bad, like the 3cm cancerous tumour in my colon and the 10-day wait for the results that would turn our world upside down.
My diagnosis was devastating to me but not for the reasons you might think. As I sat there absorbing more numbers, this time my survival statistics, I could feel your grief. You didn’t show it, you’re much too strong for that. But it was there in the slump of your shoulders as it dawned on you that I’d just been diagnosed with the same cancer that claimed your father.
You held my hand when I started crying and I remember thinking that I must have done something truly breathtaking in another life to have found you in this one. To be there with me, sharing this awful moment – the stuff of nightmares – when everything was crashing down around us.
In the days that followed I drifted away from you and the children as I tried to envisage what a future with cancer would look like. I disconnected. I couldn’t find the tolerance to play Hungry Hippos over and over again. But you did. Cafe trips, playgrounds, bike rides – you took it all on with the same sense of fun and enthusiasm as always. I’ll never know how you found the strength to do that. To carry on as normal, knowing what you did.
I’m sorry I was distant. I was trying to pull away in case the unimaginable happened. To make it easier for you to move on. But I know now that our kind of love will never be neatly slotted into an Ex-File. There was no lack of rapprochement from you, no blame, just a sense that I’d figure it all out eventually. You were right. I did. We need to unite, hold the line, and face this battle together.
A great marriage is a bit like Nigella’s chocolate torte. You don’t need much of the sugary stuff to know how satisfying it is, yet at the same time you’re pleasantly aware that, underneath it all, that biscuit base is rock-solid. It’s never going to let any of the good stuff seep away. You say you’re not romantic. I disagree. What you’ve given me of yourself this last year surpasses any pricey bouquet, naff picnic or surprise trip to New York.
Sometimes I think cancer is hardest on the families. At least I have a goal. A target. A treatment plan. You have hope. You also have a full-time job, all the worry, and two small children to look after whilst I was in hospital recovering from major surgery and then chemo.
Our girls are so lucky to have you as their father. Of all my life choices, you are the best. Some would have walked away. You stay because that’s the sort of man you are, not out of a sense of duty but because the thought of leaving never even crosses your mind.
Your humility is legendary. You also have the ability to laugh and talk nonsense until four in the morning, yet no one could accuse you of pretense. You’re the only man who can make me laugh until I’m begging for mercy. I’ve cried more happy tears during our marriage than any other sort.
I don’t know what our future holds. I hope with all my heart that I can be a part of it for as long as I can but if I can’t, and if the worst befalls me, then at least our girls have you. Who cares if you can’t tie a ponytail or remember all the names of Emily’s Barbies. These things can be learnt, whereas your love for them is intuitive.
I have a gift for you this Valentine’s Day. It’s a promise, a guarantee that I’ll fight this disease with everything I have because I refuse to accept that our numbers end here. I see my fortieth in two years time and I see your fiftieth in nine.
Most of all I see you and me and our girls.