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Love in borrowed time: patients with cancer find romance


TORONTO: It could have been a meeting in a romantic comedy between a man and a "mutant."

After weeks of flirting online, Patrick Bardos was on his way to meet Anne Marie Cerato for his first appointment at a coffee shop in downtown Toronto. He sent a text message to Cerato to let him know he was a few blocks away in a tram-filled track through rush hour traffic. Cerato said that the same cross had passed. "Are you wearing blue shoes?" He asked.

Bardos looked at the slippers of his blue shoes and then looked for Cerato among the bushes of the travelers. He felt a faucet on the shoulder. Bardos turned, and there was Cerato, like the photo of her dating profile: long dark hair and brown eyes sharpened by angular glasses. Better still, unlike many of her previous dates, she was taller than her.

"You are short," Bardos said. "But I am also short. And that's not what I want to say."

Bardos must have said something to redeem, because the two continued talking until the cafeteria was closed. They decided to take a bite in a nearby restaurant and, once again, they turned off the house. It was then that Bardos realized that he was late for his own anniversary celebration, so he returned to his apartment to attend his party guests, who spent the night listening closely This woman who had just met.

As hurt as Cerato, then 33, he was with Bardos, he knew he did not have time to lose himself in a relationship without a start. So in his second appointment, he decided to release "the bomb".

Knowing that Bardos was a comic book fan, Cerato tried to soften the blow by appealing to the sensitivity of his superhero. "I'm not someone else," he said, "but I am mutant."

To the disappointment of Bardos, Cerato admitted that he was not a member of the X-Men. However, he had been exposed to his fair share of radiation in the treatment of a form of lung cancer driven by a genetic mutation.

After two years of remission, Cerato had recently learned that his cancer had spread, and it was likely not to be around in five years.

This was the opportunity for Bardos to run through the hills, said Cerato. Bardos took a moment to consider his dilemma: How can you fall in love if the loss is imminent?

When you face an illness with life or death bets, heart issues may seem a secondary concern. But cancer can serve as a "litmus test" for a relationship, and many fail, said Dr. Robert Rutledge, a radiation oncologist at Halifax.

He said it is not strange that people reduce ties, even marriages, with partners rather than face the possibility of losing a loved one against cancer and, by proxy, face their own mortality.

But while some couples are placed under the stress of the disease, Rutledge has said that for others, emotional connections can increase. The people who defend their partners when it seems that the end seems to be worth the while the patients have left, he said.

Feeling the "mutant" that was falling, Bardos agreed to be this type of partner for Cerato.

It was in the fall of 2011. Seven years later, Bardos and Cerato got married, own a house, travel to the world and even celebrate their "25th anniversary", adjusting their romantic landmarks for love in a chronological condensed.

Before getting to know Cerato, Bardos said that it would collapse between the ruminants of the past and worried about the future. Now, Bardos said that he is capable of submerging himself in the moment, so that he can spend it with her.

"He made me a better person, very fast, just to be herself," he said.

At 40, Cerato said he challenged survival statistics thanks to the recent evolution of specific genetic therapy. But knowing that his time is finite, he was forced to decide what he could live and who could not live.

"It seems to me that, in a way, it is a gift that I have realized that at 30 and not 60."

For Morgan McNeely in Edmonton, this accomplishment came a month before he turned 25 when he discovered he had colon cancer terminal-4.

After his diagnosis in 2015, McNeely found himself without his studies, his scientific research work and his restaurant, and some short relationships that he thought he could count on.

Suddenly he had plenty of free time in his hands, so that she and a friend decided to have fun by going through Tinder.

McNeely rejected a series of proposals, including a lothario who volunteered to help her cross elements of her "list of sex cubes."

She was not expressly seeking love: the last man to split because of her "cancer drama", but one of her Tinder games turned out to be persistent, and they started dating.

Having lost so much, McNeely was afraid of leaving the guard down. But he said: "I see you beyond cancer." And soon, McNeely helped to see that too.

"I am lucky every day, for him," he said. "I'm not happy to have cancer, but I am still grateful for what he brought me."

However, McNeely said the illness can complicate a relationship. When she and her boyfriend got a cat, McNeely said they had to consider whether she could take care of the pet without her. When they discuss about the prospect of marriage, she is concerned about whether debts related to her illness will be transferred after she dies.

This is the case with many patients with terminal cancer: their greatest concern is not their own death, but the impact they will have on loved ones who leave behind.

Julie Easley is too familiar with this tension, not only as a social scientist, whose research has focused on young people with cancer, but as a survivor who has suffered losses.

When Easley met Randy Cable at a Fredericton bar in 2004, he felt an instantaneous shake of recognition. At age 28, Easley's life had been returned to her after battling Hodgkin's stage-2 lymphoma. Cable, 29, had been diagnosed with colon cancer and told him that he had three months to live, that day, the clock had run out.

As of this moment, it was the love of the borrowed time.

Easley knew the isolation that could come with the fight against cancer. She was doing research in the hospital where Cable was being treated, so she started visiting it after work.

One night, Cable was afraid of falling asleep, having said he could enter the heart stopped at any time. Easley offered to stay to control his breathing. She dragged him to bed with him and put his hand on his chest, feeling that he got up and fell as both were diverting. After that, she slept more frequently than, taking her hands all night long.

Sometimes, it almost felt like a "normal" couple. To entertain themselves, they pretended that the reflection on the television screen revealed another room in their imaginary apartment.

"There is something about seeing this strength of character and this beauty of the human spirit when dispossessed in your most vulnerable state," he said. "I fell in love with that."

Easley said that Cable took a while to realize that it was more than the "girl with whom he slept." When Easley told Cable that he loved, he stayed silent. I had told his mother that his greatest regret was that he had never been in love, according to Easley, but had tried him badly. "I also love you," said the tearful eyes.

In the fall of 2005, little more than a year after its meeting, it became clear that the end was close. The friends and relatives of the Cable gathered around their bed and asked Easley to go with him. This time, instead of keeping it, he welcomed her as he died at age 31.

Thirteen years later, Easley continues honoring the memory of Cable through his work in the young adult cancer community, and he is grateful for the memories he gave him.

"If you ever want to know the value of life, spend time with someone who is struggling to do it," said Easley. "I knew it would end. The part I did not know is the unexpected beauty that happened inside this."

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