Romance Between People With Illnesses Isn't Tragic

I have a crush on a guy who has cancer. Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Cancer is only one small part of who he is; obviously, people are much more than an illness they have. But he’s going to have a stem cell transplant, and that has a possibly lengthy recovery process. He’ll be in the hospital in Cleveland for at least a month, then recovering at home for another month. Even after that, his immune system could be weak for a while. And that’s if there are no complications.

For the sake of his privacy, I’ll refer to him as Will. Will and I actually haven’t met yet. We’ve been texting. I know that the first breast he touched was silicone, in a health class. I know he believes in “God or something.” I’ve seen a lot of photos of him (hot) on Facebook. We were in the same three year MFA program in creative writing. We even overlapped two years, but never met. It was a big program, a consortium of four universities in Ohio.

I am currently in Iowa and I’m broke. I am, however, also fully recovered from a severe case of axonal Guillain-Barré, which I was hospitalized for earlier this year. I have chronic fatigue now and I’m stiff and sore, but I’m well enough to look for a new job. I need to make money again. I’d like to travel to meet Will and he suggested I visit, even though he’s currently having chemo. I feel frustrated that circumstances are preventing me from meeting him right now. Will says he won’t always be sick and I won’t always be broke. I hope he’s right.

You’re probably reading this and thinking, this is some sort of emotional electronic affair with a The Fault in Our Stars feel to it. You might be cringing. But it doesn’t feel cringe worthy to me. Boy and girl writers (both born in the '80s, both obsessed with 90’s pop culture) crushing on each other. It feels natural.

Having a crush on Will is emotional. I am scared. But his honesty about what is going on in his life just makes me like him more.

Will first contacted me after an essay I wrote about my experiences with Guillain-Barré was published in The Good Men Project. In the essay, I mention my IVIG treatments, which is basically five days of a plasma IV. IVIG made me smell like a collection of strangers; I didn’t smell like myself again for weeks. I imagined a character who gained superpowers from an IVIG treatment which had accidentally been mixed with something else.

Will complimented me on the overall essay and said he had IVIG for twenty years because of an autoimmune disorder. He said he could help me with any info I needed for developing the character, and that it was a “rad” superhero origin story. Cute, right? This was a couple of weeks before he found out his cancer had returned after remission. Will said he told me about his cancer returning before he told some of his longtime friends.

We were supposed to start the MFA program in the same year, but he had to defer for a year the first time he had cancer. He seemed charmed by the idea that we were supposed to start at the same time. The truth is, if I had met Will that year, I would have blown it. I was in a long distance relationship with a much older man. It wasn’t my first relationship with an older guy — in my twenties, older men always seemed preferable to guys my own age. Around thirty, guys my own age finally became appealing to me. Extremely appealing. Watching minor league baseball players felt like watching porn. A guy talking about watching the same Nickelodeon shows as me as a kid was enough for me to want to take off my underwear. But before thirty, I thought older was better.

I also would have blown it with Will, had we met in the MFA program, because of ambition. He wouldn’t have been a guy to me, just another writer in the program. A writer whose strengths and weaknesses I would have quickly tried to size up and then catalogue into my memory.

Will is currently in Cleveland having chemo, which he has to have for about six weeks before he can have the stem cell transplant. The hospital is extremely busy and he has to have a roommate. This horrifies me. Even though I was traumatized when I was in the hospital with GBS, I still had a big room and bathroom all to myself.

Will's roommate is cheating on his wife with a woman named Ashley who Will has started calling Ashley Madison. Not to her face, though. Will texts me that he found out Ashley Madison is the man’s wife’s sister’s daughter. “So,” I text “his niece?!” Maybe my budding text relationship with Will isn’t so weird.

Will has four sisters. As a kid, when his father didn’t want to pick up tampons and pads for the five women in the house, he had Will do it. “He sent me in with coupons and all,” Will said about his dad. I think this is excellent. Guys with sisters seem to do a better job reconciling the fantasy of women with the reality of women. I refer to my younger brother’s childhood as “girl boot camp.”

Will and I have been texting for six weeks. We have moved from talking about books and movies to exes and sex positions.

I’ve only told a couple people about him. I’m afraid friends and family will say, “Why don’t you date someone in Iowa?” Everyone keeps saying this even though there is a low number of people over the age of twenty-five in this state who are single, and the single guys I do meet in Iowa keep freaking me out. (Recently, an Iowa guy sent me a sweet Facebook message; when I looked more closely at his page, I discovered he is a former reverend for the Church of Satan. According to the internet, Church of Satan members do not worship Satan. But still, having Satan in the title…)

Having a crush on Will is emotional. I am scared. But his honestly about what is going on in his life just makes me like him more. It was recently suggested to Will that he write a will before the stem cell transplant. His hair has started to fall out from chemo. Even if I had the money, I’m not sure he would want me to visit now until after his recovery from the transplant. Will is positive on social media, but has privately told me that he is afraid, too.

Maybe my crush on Will won't lead to anything. Maybe he'll be mad at me for writing this. Maybe we won't be attracted to each other in real life. Other things could happen. Who knows. Right now, it feels good, and I hope we can meet someday. At the very least, this is a cool friendship. Talking to him makes me feel alive, and I'd like to think I make him feel the same way. Isn't that all that matters?

Image: Meg Johnson/