To Have and to Hold
We decided to view marriage as an adventure. Th e day aft er we got married we gathered up $950 of wedding cash and headed East in my in-law’s 1981 Buick LaSabre. It took us three days just to get from Illinois to Ohio–we were newlyweds and we had more important things to do than driving the open road. One morning Jon called the consulting firm where he interned to tell them we would be in the area. As I sat on the hood of the car eating an Egg McMuffin, he stepped into the “Clark Kent” style phone booth. Aft er a couple of minutes, he leaned out of the phone booth and said, “Hey Trish, they offered me a job. It pays $16,000 per year. Want to move to Washington, D.C.?” So we plunked down all of our cash on an apartment in D.C., drove back to Illinois, packed everything we owned into half of a small Ryder truck, bought a car with nothing but our word and our smiles and began that adventure.
We spent the next few days planning the future and making lists. Lists of what we were going to do with ALL that money. Lists of how we would divide up the household chores, the places we would visit, the kinds of houses we would buy someday, the things we would do when we were old together. We didn’t have a lot, but we had each other – and we held on tight.
For Better for Worse; For Richer for Poorer
Our debt ebbed and fl owed…mostly flowed. Jon launched his professional life as a political consultant. I launched mine as a teacher, but quickly changed directions to go to work for a member of Congress. We followed our hearts and our liberal ideals and lived on love and all the free food we could nab from political fundraisers. We knew we wanted to have a big family and we wouldn’t be able to continue to live on free food and easy credit. So we faced the fact one of us needed to choose a better paying career. “One of us” turned out to be Jon. He left the world of underpaid twenty-something politics and went into sales and technology. We paid our debts and since I was still in politics, we still managed to score free food.
The sweet years of having babies were hard work, but definitely good times. We acted like we invented the concept. We reveled in each pregnancy and after a few rough weeks with our first newborn we knew we must be the best parents ever. When our first daughter was six months old Jon said, “We’re great at this. This is easy. We should have another one!” Nine months later we had our second daughter. A few years after that we decided to have two more children. Someone asked us how many children we were planning to have and we said we figured we would just get a feeling when everyone who was supposed to be at the party was there.
Jon and I agree that most of our best decisions were made on the fl y. Let’s get married. Let’s move to Washington, D.C. Let’s start a new career. Let’s have children. Let’s have MORE children. We used the same planning system to make the decisions to get dogs, to purchase our first house and for me to quit my job and be a stay-at-home mom. Th e adventure continued.
In Sickness or in Health
Then came the day we had to face the possibility of “till death do us part.” Jon and I sat in a hospital room while a doctor told me, “You have a rare leukemia. Until very recently it was untreatable, but there are trial studies that you can try to get into now.” My only response was, “What? I can’t have leukemia. I have four young daughters. I have the perfect life and everything I’ve ever wanted.” The minute Jon heard the doctor say my cancer was treatable, he never waivered in his belief that everything would be okay and we must take charge of the situation.
We decided that the best treatment center for me would be Johns Hopkins, in Baltimore. Aft er I checked into Hopkins I started standard protocol treatment, but hadn’t been admitted to a trial study. My insurance wouldn’t pay for the recommended trial. My doctors called the insurance company to no avail. Jon spent hour aft er hour, day aft er day for weeks on the phone with the insurance company, the drug company and the hospital while I started taking standard chemo. He was determined that I would be a part of the trial study and receive the most up-to-date treatments. Finally, I was allowed to participate in the trial study.
I spent most of six months at Johns Hopkins having chemo and experimental treatments. Jon stayed with me at the hospital while my mom and Jon’s mom took turns coming from Illinois to take care of the children. Our community came out in force to help them. Friends helped drive our children to and from practices, games, school plays and play dates. People, many of whom we didn’t even know, helped with the laundry, the grocery shopping and provided months worth of meals.
The chemo caused me to have heart failure, but it was treatable with a year of medication and rest. If I hadn’t gotten on the trial study, I would have had 30 times the amount of chemo given to me, and I wouldn’t have survived. When I later thanked my doctor for saving my life, he said, “Thank your husband. He is the one who got you into the trial study. Without him, you wouldn’t be here.”
When I think back on those six months, I remember the sound of Jon typing on his laptop next to my bed while I slept. Every day he held my hand and told me how beautiful I was and how much he loved me. When people asked how I was doing, he told them I was going to be fi ne. When I wondered if I was going to be fi ne, he made lists of all the reasons he knew I was going to be fi ne. Th e biggest reason was that he knew that our adventure wasn’t over yet.
To Love and To Cherish
People admired how strong we were; how strong our marriage was to be able to survive having our lives turned upside down. Th e reality is it wasn’t hard on our marriage. It was a hard time in our lives, but Jon and I grew closer during that struggle. Instead of thinking till death do us part, we cherished our love without end.
Vows are more than words. Navigating the adventures of marriage—the schedules, parenting, work, finances, expectations, differing views, etc.—is where the words meet the hard road. At age 22, the words just seemed like romance on a day of great celebration. At age 46, I know that these words have depth and teeth and can come back to bite you in the ass if you aren’t careful to be conscious of them as the years go by.
I’ve been in remission for almost six years. The girls are strong beautiful young women. Jon and I continue to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, as we continue on our adventure. With the hindsight and experiences gained over more than two decades of marriage to my best friend, I would take those vows again in a heartbeat.
TRICIA HANEGHAN lives in South Riding, VA with her husband, four daughters, and the world’s two naughtiest golden retrievers. Before moving to VA, Tricia was an elementary teacher then spent several years on the legislative staff of Illinois Senator Paul Simon.