Love Looks Like This: My Fiancé Has Been My Rock “in Sickness and in Health”

"Following my engagement bliss, things got dark."

love looks like this

Art by Cristina Cianci; Photo by Erin McGeever of Grace & Ardor Co.

Brides is committed to guiding ALL couples through not only their wedding planning journey but through relationship milestones and ups and downs. Every love story is beautiful, has its own distinct history, and its own trials—there's no relationship that looks the same. To celebrate that uniqueness, we're asking couples to open up about their love story, for our latest column, "Love Looks Like This." Below, Jenna Silvestrini tells her story from Hoboken, New Jersey.

“It’s not cancer. It’s a rare disease known as aggressive fibromatosis or a desmoid tumor,” is the good news I received just a few months into my engagement.

The vow “in sickness and in health” has been tested sooner rather than later for me and my fiancé Ian, and if it wasn’t evident during our five-year courtship, we’ve certainly proven it after the year we’ve had. I was newly engaged and living this fairytale at first. I thought, Okay, I'm getting everything I want. I'm successful at work, I'm getting married to this great guy that I love so much. I have an amazing and supportive family. Then, things kind of blew up a little bit...or a lot.

But let me first share with you my engagement bliss before things became dark. Before I was sad, and it was hard.

Let me first share with you my engagement bliss before things became dark. Before I was sad, and it was hard.

Ian and I attended St. Joe’s together but started to date after college when he visited NYC for his brother's wedding. I lived in Murray Hill at the time so we went to Dukes, a local dive bar, and reconnected. He moved to Romania when he was eight years old and had spent all that time there until college. I was excited to learn more about him. It had just never happened that way for me, you know? I dated a lot of frogs before I met him. We got engaged in Central Park in 2019, on the hottest day of August, while on the boats. Ian is a nervous type so he kept riding in circles...I knew something was up. He pulled out an envelope, and I asked, “What is that?” He was so nervous he just blurted out, “It’s an engagement ring!" Then he tried to get on one knee while the boat was rocking. It was so perfect. On the high of the engagement, we traveled to France with Ian’s family where we went biking through the countryside. Then wedding planning was in full motion.

Throughout that year, I had been dealing with significant sciatic nerve pain that was getting increasingly worse. I visited ten different chiropractors, underwent physical therapy, did regular yoga, saw orthopedic surgeons, and even got MRIs. It was all chalked up to a "little fracture in my spine," which was easier to ignore with all my engagement bliss until I was wedding dress shopping and realized my left leg was noticeably bigger than my right leg. It was really hard too. I got a piriformis syndrome diagnosis and the treatment for that was massages to help loosen the muscle. I knew something still wasn’t right, though. I hadn’t slept through the night in months and, then one night in January of 2020, my foot went numb. I was hysterically crying, while Ian insisted I call my doctor. He’s always been my biggest advocate when it comes to being vocal during my appointments. Me, trying to be considerate (probably overly) of doctor’s hours, went back to bed but couldn’t fall asleep. 

Another MRI followed and that’s when I got the news. Ironically, I had just found out I won sales rep of the year at my job in pharmaceuticals. I was a rookie at the company and it was a big deal—or it should have been a big deal. I got a call from my doctor and he said, “I’m sorry you have a large tumor. It's malignant and it’s likely not good.” The tumor was eight inches at this point and my lymph nodes were almost double in size. I had to see an oncologist right away. I was so scared. I just blacked out after that.

The tumor was eight inches at this point and my lymph nodes were almost double in size...I was so scared. I just blacked out after that.

love looks like this

Art by Cristina Cianci; Photos Courtesy of Author

Next came a biopsy, followed by a lot of waiting. My doctor promised me that whether it was cancer or not, I’d get through this. I kind of cried and tried to crack a joke at the same time. “Oh, so I shouldn’t cancel my wedding yet?” I asked trying to make things feel a little light. He hugged me and said, “No, no, no.” (That was probably the last hug I got from a public person.)

'Oh, so I shouldn’t cancel my wedding yet?' I asked trying to make things feel a little light. He hugged me and said, 'No, no, no.'

Later, I got my desmoid diagnosis. It’s so rare—doctors didn’t know how to treat it and there are only about 700 or so cases each year. The tumor had completely compressed my sciatic nerve, it had extended to my femur and glute...it was huge and it was relentless. It's not malignant or what I feared most, cancerous, so it's not going to spread but it is a space taker, which feels like a metaphor for the space it’s taking up in my life. Ian, along with my family, sat in appointment after appointment with me asking questions and when the pandemic entered the scene, they sat in the car, waiting, supporting me. Even though I didn’t have cancer, chemotherapy was the suggested course of action. Selfishly I thought, I don't want to lose my hair. It’s part of me. I just wanted to be excited about getting married, but I was physically and emotionally exhausted.

I did the chemo though and it was hard. I could barely sleep during that period and felt like only 50% of myself. I also felt bad because I'm so lucky. I mean there are people that actually have cancer and they don't even have that support system, and Ian was taking on all of this responsibility like a champ. He wanted to be involved and not just in a let-me-know-what-the-doctor-said type of way, He wanted to ask questions and actively listen. If he couldn’t come in, he wanted to be on FaceTime. He begged me to be there for everything.

I thought chemotherapy was something I just had to get through and then I would be okay. It didn’t work out that way. I wound up joining a Facebook group for people living with desmoid tumors and was recommended a doctor at Stanford in California. Ian and I flew out right away for surgery. They have an 80 percent recurrence rate with surgery, so they’re almost impossible to remove but I still tried. I got this treatment called cryoablation that freezes tumor tissue in hopes of killing it with the extreme cold. It’s about a 13-hour procedure. I went back after my tumor growth persisted and when they went in again, they actually saw that everything they did before had pretty much grown back. They got 75 percent of it but that's what they said the last time, so I don't think it's over by any means. 

I just wanted to be excited about getting married, but I was physically and emotionally exhausted.

We moved our wedding to October, obviously, because of the pandemic, but I do think that it's a blessing in disguise. Hopefully, I'll feel more like myself then. And I've always wanted a fall wedding, so, in a way, it worked out. I can't wait to walk down the aisle in my Mira Zwillinger dress toward my Prince Charming at the Union League of Philadelphia.

This whole experience has been really hard, not just for me but for everyone around me. I hid my story for so long but I finally posted something on Instagram about my condition—and, ironically enough, it now has more likes than my engagement photos. I hadn't told a lot of people about what I was going through before, mostly because it’s difficult to understand that I went through chemo but I don't have cancer, but I’m glad I did. I want to share how even a wonderful time can be so hard.

There's mascara running down my face in the post but it only exemplifies the shit that we've all gone through this year. It's not just me, it's everyone in different ways. My love story has been a roller coaster, but I've realized that everything can change in a moment—and it's the love between two humans that is the most important part of life. 

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