Many of us meet and spend our lives with our soulmate… the one we were made for. Imagine meeting yours at 16 or 17, with all the excitement of being young. Imagine navigating a journey of Leukemia together- through the fear and the sick and the joy. Imagine all that you miss- prom, dates, parties, college weekends… all that and more.
Imagine if your soulmate dies.
This is Ryan’s Story… told by his soulmate Jenna.
Ryan and I were 18 years old when he was diagnosed with Leukemia. We had been dating for 15 months, at the time of his diagnosis. We were finishing our senior year and had our entire lives ahead of us. We were to graduate high school in the top 1% of our class. We were going to attend Binghamton University together in the fall. We were in love and we were so very happy. We had everything a person could ever want. In nine months, he was gone.
I look back on those nine months as the slowest… yet fastest experience of my life. In the moment, time was so incredibly painful. Everything seemed so slow, drawn out, and never-ending. Especially when days in the hospital turned to weeks and when weeks turned to months. Ryan’s treatment plan (initially) was three years long. In those first months, it seemed like things would always be difficult, that he would always be sick, and that life would never be normal again. It didn’t help matters that everything that could go wrong for Ryan did. I mean absolutely everything went wrong. It got to a point where we just expected complications, and it became so difficult to stay positive when everything always seemed to work against him. We would be so hopeful about things going well and him being able to leave the hospital just- to be let down again. We became so tired of hearing bad news. There were so many times that everything seemed dark, and it became hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel.
Going through those times together, being brave together, making the best of the awful situation we faced together, made us stronger. When he was down he always had me to pick him up, and when I was feeling down I always had him. He was my rock, he really was, and I know was his. There were days we didn’t want to smile, we just wanted to cry and we did. I never cried more in my life than I did during those nine months. He lost 40 pounds in a matter of four weeks.
Watching him suffer and become so sick, it made me sick. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t even think straight. All I wanted to do was be by his side 24/7, and so I was. The feeling that I would get just by being with him, it was instant relief. It all just broke my heart, he didn’t deserve to always be in pain, to always be in fear. I know how scared I was for him- so I can only imagine the fear he felt. He always put on such a brave face and never once did he complain. He amazed me. Our love is really what got us both through those difficult months. It takes a strong couple to go through all that we did during that time.
Life was testing us in a way we had never been tested before. We could always count on was our love for each other. We found joy in the little things, and nothing made me happier than being with him. He had my whole heart. I could describe our love for each other all day long, our bond was one in a million.
When I reflect back on those 9 months, everything seems like it happened so fast. I mean from the day we found out he had Leukemia it was just constant. He was diagnosed, we spent countless weeks in the hospital while I was trying to finish school, we graduated, we tried to make the most of a summer filled with countless hospital stays. When we received the news that he would be getting a bone marrow transplant, I had to leave for college; even though college was the last thing I cared about. Ryan left for his transplant in Boston shortly after. The next three months were nothing short of a living hell.
In those three months, I lived my worst nightmare. I slowly watched my boyfriend’s life deteriorate before my eyes; while still a full-time college student, 5 hours away from him. I have an amazing family who travelled the 10 hours to get me from my college in Binghamton to Boston and then back to Binghamton nearly every weekend. However, the time I spent in Boston with him wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies.
When I visited Boston during his first few weeks, we were able to have quality time together. I am so grateful for those weekends because those are my last memories with Ryan, as I knew him.
Leaving him was the worst part, it was heartbreaking and I couldn’t stand it. All I wanted to do was drop out of school that semester so I could stay in Boston. If it were up to me I would have. I was so distracted and worried all the time that it was impossible for me to sit in a classroom without bursting into tears. My heart and mind were constantly in another place and it wasn’t Binghamton University. Ryan insisted that I finish out the semester for him, and so I did- for him.
His exact words to me were, “Cancer has already put my life on hold, I’m not going to let it put yours on hold too.”
After being in Boston for about four weeks, things started to take a turn. Ryan was moved to the ICU. He spent two excruciating months in the ICU before we lost him. I would still visit him, I would talk to him, I would hold his hand, but things were never the same.
The times that he was awake he was heavily medicated. He was placed on a ventilator for the last month of his life. In that time, I completed my first semester of college with a 3.80 GPA, and even though he couldn’t tell me, I know I made him proud. The last words he ever said to me were “I love you Jenna” on December 5, 2015.
He passed away on January 10, 2016. That last month was a living hell, and his last couple of days were just soul shattering. I look back and I don’t know how he endured all he did for so long or how I was able to stay strong for him. I realize now that witnessing his strength and bravery made it easy for me to stay strong. I never, ever gave up on him; even when the doctors and nurses were preparing me for the worst. I believed with everything inside of me, up until he took his last breath, that he would survive. When he did take that last breath in my arms, I swear someone physically ripped my heart out of my chest and I will never get it back. I absolutely wish it had been me and not him. Never have I ever experienced a pain as unbearable as the pain of losing him.
It’s hard to believe that all of this happened in a matter of nine months. For nine months, we navigated through a journey of a lifetime together. We believed that this part of our lives was just an obstacle for us to overcome, and that once he came home from Boston we would build the future we had always talked about. Little did we know that the beginning of our story would also be the end…
I feel like our story is something so awful and so tragic that people only make up stories like ours for movies. I cannot believe this is my real life. All of it still hurts. I cannot fathom the fact that I will never see my Ryan again. More than anything, I hate that his story doesn’t have the happy ending he deserves. He had so much more life to live, he had so much to accomplish. This isn’t the way things were supposed to happen. He was the most perfect person I have ever met, he didn’t deserve this.
It’s hard to believe that something like this can happen to a person like him. We were both cheated of a life that could have been so wonderful.
Learning to live without him is a journey in itself, a journey I wish I didn’t have to live. The person I love and my best friend was ripped away from me at 18 years old and I’m never getting him back. It’s hard…It’s REALLY hard. There are still days where I just want to give up… but then I think of him. I think of how hard he fought, I think of his courage and how he never gave up- I know I can survive the life I’ve been faced with. There’s no other way. I now live to make him proud, I have to. That’s really what gives me the strength to keep going, I know I’m making him proud.
Everything I do is for him.