A goal of mine is to be an intimate wedding photographer. I don’t mean “intimate wedding photographer” because I only photograph small weddings, I shoot with all sizes of parties. When I say “intimate wedding photographer” I mean, that I really love the journey of getting to know my clients. After an initial email inquiry, I schedule a video consult with interested couple. We get to know each other and make sure we are a great fit on their wedding day! The video consult with Sam and Emily proved unique because of their story, and the one thought sticking in my head after their consult was, “this is why you marry your best friend.”
I got to know them more during their engagement photoshoot, and was truly inspired by their story. The first few years of any relationship are the “honeymoon” years, not much gets in the way of your lust and love for each other. But when you face hardships in the beginning, sometimes it’s challenging to keep serving one another to your best abilities, and things can fall apart.
Sam and Emily knew each other from high school. They started as friends and then realized they liked each other as more, and started dating. About a year after officially dating, Sam’s family moved about 2.5 hours away, so they did long distance for the next 3.5 years.
In 2019, Emily was in nursing school and Sam was working about 2.5 hours away. Emily noticed she had swollen lymph nodes in her neck in late September 2019. She was experiencing mild respiratory symptoms, but figured it may have been some kind of respiratory illness. Her respiratory symptoms went away but her lymph nodes remained swollen so she went in to her doctor. She was referred to an ENT to undergo further testing and ultimately found out she had stage IV cancer, Classical Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Emily’s mom works in healthcare and Emily’s treatment came during the midst of COVID. Her mom didn’t feel comfortable taking care of Emily while also working with sick patients. So, she asked Sam if he would move in and take care of Emily. Of course he said yes, but not only did Sam say yes, he quit his job, moved, and became Emily’s full time caretaker. For better or worse, sicker or poorer, right?
I’ll let you read through their response here, they tell their love story better than I do. But, it just goes to show that when looking for someone who will be there with you, in all of it, the good, bad, boring, depressing, exciting, the sick. Who better to be by your side than your best friend.
Q: How did you and Sam meet each other?
A: Sam and I met in high school, had the same Spanish II class, and he was the accompanist for the audition choir I was in. He was new to the school his senior year (my junior year) and kept to himself for the most part. I felt bad because he sat by himself every class, so I started trying to talking with him. I found out that his family had just moved here, and were staying in an apartment, so he didn’t have a piano to practice on which is a problem for an accompanist! So, by offering to let him use the piano at my house for practice, we started really becoming close. In a matter of weeks we were best friends, and by December we figured out we LIKED each other (apparently we were the last to figure it out among our friends). That was a little over 5 years ago, and we have been on quite the trip since then. About a year or so after we started dating, his family moved back to Huntsville, so we did long distance for the next 3 and a half years. Even though it was only 2 1/2 hours away, it was far enough to be difficult with conflicting schedules.
How & when did you find out you were sick?
I noticed I had swollen lymph nodes in my neck in September of 2019, thinking I had some bronchitis or something mild and decided to wait a couple of weeks before I got looked at. My respiratory symptoms went away, but my lymph nodes remained swollen and I was starting to get a little worried so I made an appointment with my primary care to have a look, do some blood work, order tests, and that kind of thing. I went for an ultrasound a week after that, and the results showed they were lymph nodes and not something else.
My primary care referred me to an ENT that I originally wouldn’t be able to see until March, but thankfully someone canceled their appointment and I was able to be seen in mid-January. He gave me a second round of antibiotics, though the first round hadn’t worked, and ordered a biopsy. I’m usually awful at remembering dates and times, but I remember exactly where I was, when it was, and what I was doing when the ENT called with my biopsy results. It was 11:30 on February 18th, a Tuesday, and I was sitting at my desk for my student worker job when my phone went off. The caller asked if I was Emily, and when I said yes, they told me, and I quote “So we have your biopsy results and there’s no need to freak out, but it’s definitely cancer, specifically Classical Hodgkin’s Lymphoma if you want to google it later.” As someone who is graduating with my BSN in nursing a couple of months from now, I could go on for an hour about what was wrong with that exchange, but I’ll try to avoid my soapbox. I had a consultation appointment with my oncologist the next day that was an attempt to prepare me for what was coming, and I believe my mother referred to it as “verbal waterboarding.” She wasn’t wrong. On the way home, we stopped at a salon and I chopped off 12 inches of hair.
During my pre-testing, they discovered I had a pericardial effusion (fluid in my pericardium) of 1L. The pericardium is kind of like a sac that sits around your heart and it isn’t really meant to have much fluid in it. People come into the ER with 1/4 of the amount of fluid I had and have issues breathing, so for me to show no symptoms of it was a bit of a surprise to me and the cardiologist. I went home then came in the next morning, had a pericardial window and port placed. Spent the night in the ICU (per policy, not necessity), and got the results of my PET/CT the next morning. You know, I thought I would feel some kind of shock when I was told it was Stage IV. I remember just shrugging and saying okay (which caught my oncologist a little off guard). I knew the survival and cure rates for Hodgkin’s, so I was ready to roll with the punches.
Did anything change in your relationship once you started going through treatment?
Sam has always been incredibly supportive of me in everything I’ve done, whether it was school, work, anything. My mom is a CRNA, meaning she works with people’s airways all day. Since I didn’t have an immune system and there was a respiratory virus pandemic going around, my mom was just a little bit stressed. She knew if she was exposed to COVID, she wouldn’t be able to come home for two weeks and I wasn’t able to take care of myself anymore. One morning over coffee, she looked at Sam and just asked him if he wanted to move in mid-conversation, totally out-of-the-blue. Sam was completely okay with quitting his job, moving 2 1/2 hours away from his family, and quarantining for 6 months to care for me. Other than not having to do long distance anymore, there wasn’t really any changes to our relationship. He has always been ready to help me through anything and put me back on my feet every time I trip on a bump in the road. He is a very special kind of person.
Do you feel like you’ve experienced a new level of closeness, friendship, and love?
As treatment progressed, I got weaker and was able to do less and less for myself. The chemotherapy itself wasn’t too awful, being tired, nauseous, and having back pain is pretty standard for a nursing student, but my treatment and body weren’t getting along. It got to the point that I wasn’t really able to walk when the immune shot was in my system. I stayed in bed for those weeks and had to be carried to and from the bathroom. There’s a special level of closeness and love that has to be present to be willing to get up at 2 am to carry someone to the bathroom. There was an even stronger love for that one time I couldn’t stand up and had to be helped off a toilet. You don’t really have any apprehensions, secrets, or shame with the people who would willingly help you off a toilet.
How has Sam helped you through some of these stressful times with school and appointments during school…oh wait, and during a pandemic, ha!?
Sam and Sophie (my dog) have been the best support a girl could ask for while going through nursing school and treatment (and yes, I do know that not taking the semester off wasn’t the best decision). He has driven me to chemo almost every treatment and sat in his car for 4 1/2 – 5 1/2 hours in the middle of the day in the summer heat because he couldn’t come in. He has kept me calm, helped me study, carried me to the bathroom at all hours, tried to help me sleep when I was hurting, brought me three different meals because my chemo stomach changed its mind while he was cooking the first two, memorized my meds, and set alarms to make sure I got what I needed, and even quarantined away from his family and friends for over 6 months to keep me safe.
Anything else you want to share?
Sam was an absolute trooper. Fighting cancer and all that comes with it is hard, but being an almost complete caretaker of someone you love who is struggling is no walk in the park either. I have watched an uncle and someone who was like a second mother to me battle cancer and lost just in the last 6 months. Being a caretaker may not be as hard as being pumped full of actual poison on a regular basis, but it is incredibly hard to just sit there and not be able to do anything for someone you love that is suffering, or watching them deteriorate. Caretakers who are actually taking care of their sick loved ones while still putting on a strong front are very special people, and are appreciated beyond measure. Sam is an incredibly strong and special person, and words will never correctly express how grateful I am that God put him in my life
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