When I first decided to travel to all of the cities that Jeff saw during his European adventure last year, I was pretty excited that Prague was on the list.
I have tried for more than a week to write about Vienna. But I can’t. Because the story isn’t about Vienna. As much as I loved the city, it was a backdrop for me. A place that Jeff loved, and the place where I chose to spend what would have been our one-year anniversary.
This story begins like so many others: With a kiss.
Some time ago, Jeff’s dad and step-mom decided to do a once-in-a-lifetime trip with their sons. When they asked Jeff and his brother, Greg, where they would like to go, I am told that Jeff was immediate with his response: Prague, Vienna and Budapest.
So, a little over one year ago, they walked mile after mile through those three cities, with Jeff often insisting on long walks rather than trains or cabs. (Greg long ago nicknamed Jeff “the Yeti” for his long strides and love of fast-paced walking.)
There is a part of me that knew that my fiancé was dying. But I resisted that knowledge and convinced myself that he was too strong, too young, too upbeat to die, even as his shockingly aggressive cancer ravaged his body. Jeff’s ordeal with cancer was not a battle. It was an onslaught and it came out of nowhere.
While some part of me knew it would happen, watching Jeff take his last breath – not even four months after his diagnoses – broke more than just my heart. It also broke my tether to the life I was leading.
Just two weeks after Jeff and I started dating, he gave me a book with a note written on the inside cover. It was the first time that I would see Jeff’s beautiful handwriting, meticulous grammar, and the use of his famous red pen.
It was also the first time that I realized just how easy it was going to be to fall in love with him.
In his note, Jeff wrote of his excitement to write more chapters and to share more adventures with me, adding at the end “I hope you enjoy this tale, and our tale, as much as I do.”
Over the past three months, I have watched the love of my life stoically and heroically face down cancer. In that time, I have learned that there is no easy cancer and there is no average cancer and that sometimes this disease mutates, multiplies and outsmarts doctors regardless of a person’s strength, resolve and ability to laugh even during grueling chemo treatments.
So, when we heard a doctor actually say the words “this is not your average cancer,” it was equal parts refreshing for the honesty and alarming for the urgency.