Communicate your worst fears.
Groom-to-be Binnan Ong was diagnosed with Spinal Cord Ependymoma when he was in medical school: A slow-growing and more-often-than-not recurring tumor. He had surgery to remove it, but the surgeons weren’t able to extract it all, so he underwent radiation to try and knock it out, which subsequently damaged the nerves to the lower half of his body (specifically, his left leg). Afraid he would never walk again, his worst nightmare was that he would become fully dependent on his fiancée, Melanie Robbins.
The following weeks after diagnosis were very emotional for both of them. “Our value systems are very similar, but our mechanisms for processing the world around us are different. Binnan is contemplative and stoic, while I prefer talking to sort out my thoughts. He began learning more about his feelings, and I learned when it was better to just sit together quietly," said Robbins. During this time, they learned more about each other’s priorities by discussing life, death, paralysis, family…there was no taboo subject.
“It’s easy to think, ‘let’s just get through the wedding and then deal with it. But it won’t change, get better, or go away. Working through fears, concerns and frustrations before getting married will not only make the wedding planning less stressful, but it solidifies your commitment to each other,” said Ong.
Wendy Larsen and her fiancé Russell plan to wed on 12/19/12 in Las Vegas. They went through a similar grieving process after they found out Russell had Retinitis Pigmentosa: A rare, hereditary disease that affects the light-receiving cells in the eye, causing vision loss, and even total blindness in some cases.
Night situations outside of home are difficult, social interactions are challenging and safety is a big concern. Russell often walks into things or knocks them over because he’s not able to see them; “definitely one of the more frustrating aspects of the disease to deal with.” He can’t perform basic activities such as driving or sports—things he misses dearly—and he was forced to give up his job as a firefighter.
“I was faced with loving somebody at their lowest point. At times, I would look at Russell and wonder, how would this disease alter our future plans of creating a family? How would I deal with loving somebody who would eventually live in total darkness? Sharing multiple life-changing events together created an unbreakable bond between us,” said Larsen.
Keep things in perspective.
Through their illnesses, both couples learned that jobs, life goals and wedding details are all secondary to being with a person who genuinely appreciates them for who they are. Instead of worrying about choosing the perfect wedding gown and wowing guests, these couples concerns’ were more along the lines of “Will I have to wait for my bride-to-be in a wheelchair instead of standing at the end of the aisle?” and “Will I be able to see my beautiful wife’s face during our first dance?”
Witnessing your partner at their weakest, and returning a stronger, more capable, more in love couple than ever, reaffirms what’s truly important and puts everything in perspective. “When she looks you straight in the face and tells you she’ll marry you, even if you’re a paraplegic and she’ll wipe your butt every day, you know it’s real,” said Binnan.
This experience will better prepare you for marriage.
When you promise each other until death do you part, these words will take on greater significance than they would have pre-illness. So often, we never really stop and think about the meaning behind ‘til death do us part, but “a couple going through a life struggle before marriage has the advantage of understanding those vows before they make them.” Binnan plans on becoming a rehabilitation doctor and Russell is studying to be a nurse: Having been on the other side of that hospital bed, they both hope that their profound sense of empathy will better aid their patients.