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A 'yes' she didn't mean

On a joyous nature retreat in the Palomar Mountains, he proposed. Her answer came despite her worries about her health.

October 25, 2013|By Cynthia Gordon
(Sarah Wilkins / For The Times )

Two months had passed after my diagnosis last year, and I was in a panicked frenzy to escape the everyday with all its responsibilities and decisions and duties and connections and disconnections. I needed the freedom to just be.

So, I booked a beautiful cabin in the Palomar Mountains, in northern San Diego County. The selling point for me came from the owner who said, "There is no cell service up here."

My boyfriend and I packed clothes and food, and we headed 21/2 hours south. It was off-season, the week of the Fourth of July. We pretty much had the area to ourselves. Each day we jubilantly headed out the cabin door to go hiking. We saw deer, birds of all varieties, creeks and streams, California black oaks, and wild strawberry and raspberry plants. During one hike, in the middle of a field of flowers dancing with butterflies, I stretched out my arms to the sky, began twirling and exclaimed, "I am happy!" I was. I was happy, very happy to just exist in nature and deeply inhale all its beauty with every sense of my being.

The cabin had a window seat in the northwest corner with multicolored pillows of all shapes and sizes. This spot called to me from the moment we arrived, and I spent hours reading Mitch Albom's "The Five People You Meet in Heaven." From this spot I could gaze upon squirrels, chipmunks, blue jays or just the sunlight filtering through the centuries-old trees.

One evening, as I nestled in my window seat, my boyfriend of nine years came over, knelt down, held up a tiny daisy-chained ring he fashioned out of miniature wildflowers and stated the following: "Cindy, I know you are happy, and I am happy too. There is only one thing that would make me happier, and that is if you would marry me. I made this ring because I wanted you to have the opportunity to pick out a real one for yourself, if you wish."

It may sound cliché, but time froze while my mind whirled. I literally felt disoriented and dizzy. I tried to catch hold of my thoughts, to reclaim possession of each second, because I knew too many were elapsing without a reply. Tears appeared, and I knew why.

At a moment when most women would be ecstatic, these are the thoughts I had: This week was about me. You have just made it about you. The only thing that would make you happier is if I married you? The week was supposed to be for escaping responsibility, not creating it. All I wanted was to be free, not boxed in by wedding demands — rings, dress, guest list, flowers, venue, minister, food, drink. Sigh. With the acceptance of his proposal would come the obligatory celebratory lovemaking session that, at that moment, I looked upon as another "must."

"Cindy," he said, "Will you?"

I cared deeply for this man. That was why our relationship had lasted so long. But how would I be able to fill the wifely role if I got cancer, like my mom and my sister? My rare, genetic defect that significantly increased my risk of developing numerous cancers — brain, skin, digestive tract, gynecologic. If my health failed, would he feel trapped?

Throughout my life, no one had cared for me as deeply as he, and never had I felt such a level of love. He loved me, and I loved him.

So I said yes, knowing in my heart that the timing was all wrong.

The following weekend, we went shopping for rings. Because I wanted the decision-making to be over, I made a quick pick at the first store we entered. He was excited. I didn't want to cast a shadow on his joy by letting him know how I really felt.

For six months I struggled to play the happy fiancée. But early this year, I decided the right thing was to share with him all the things I felt. I returned his rings. Slowly and sadly I lowered my gaze, because I knew that I had broken this man's heart.

I am sorry, my love, I have Lynch syndrome, and the only dates I can set right now are those with my doctors. As I begin to loosen the hold Western medicine has on me and move closer toward the wisdom of Eastern medicine, my hope is that the fear of death will subside enough that I can one day live in bliss as a married woman with the wonderful man who placed before me his truly lovely heart.

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