This is what it feels like to date when you’re terminally ill

One 25-year-old woman's story of finding love after discovering she had a brain tumour

*Anna Louise Swabey passed away in the early hours of September 16th, 2016.

‘I knew halfway through my third date with Andy that I was going to break his heart. Not because I was going to cheat on him or dump him, but because I knew I was going to die.

‘I’d been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour a month earlier, in January 2015, after suffering a huge seizure in my bathroom. I was rushed to hospital, and they found a rare, inoperable tumour. Sitting in the consultant’s office the following week, my parents wept as I was given three years to live, but I just felt stunned.

I was only in my twenties, yet I was already a manager at a designer outlet and I was incredibly ambitious. Plus, while I’d had a four-year relationship in the past, we weren’t right for each other. It might sound silly, but when I was told I was dying, I was panicking about never getting the chance to meet ‘the one’.

‘Back at home, I felt frightened and depressed. My sister was on Tinder and after a fortnight she suggested I set up an account as a distraction. Reluctantly trawling through matches, I swiped right on Andy’s face. When he messaged me just minutes later, I felt a flush of excitement, then remembered it couldn’t go anywhere. Dying people didn’t date, so part of me did feel guilty as I replied, but just being “normal” again was so lovely that I couldn’t help myself.

‘Soon we were talking constantly, but when he texted to suggest meeting up, I felt scared. “I’m terminally ill and I’ll probably be dead in three years,” I typed. “I’ll understand if you want to leave things here.” I figured this was it, he’d delete my number and go find a healthy girl. He replied a minute later, saying he still wanted to meet me.

dating terminally ill


‘Heading to meet him at a pub, I was still sceptical. I brought up my illness, in case he felt uncomfortable. However, I soon realised that, in the nicest possible way, Andy wasn’t interested in my condition, he just wanted to get to know me. After our third date, on Valentine’s Day, we admitted we were falling for each other.

In December, ten months after we’d met, he proposed. As he got down on one knee, I cried and asked if he was sure – if we went ahead, he’d be a widower before he was 30. I could die following a seizure, or he might have to take care of me until the bitter end. My personality could even change. But he said that he’d rather be married to me for a few years than not at all.

‘When we got together, I worried about what our families would think. My parents were concerned in case Andy didn’t fully understand how sick I was, and I was nervous about meeting his mum and dad – who’d want their son to fall in love with someone who was dying? But they said they’d never seen Andy so happy, and that was good enough for them.

 ‘I know I’m lucky. Anyone who thinks I’ve “settled” just to get married before I die is crazy. Why would I waste precious time pretending to be in love? We both know things have moved quickly, and it is pretty intense, but we still bicker over whose turn it is to wash the dishes. We just make up quickly; there’s no time to dwell on the little things.

 ‘I’ve come to terms with my death now, yet I struggle when I think about how it’s going to affect Andy. I worry about how he’ll cope when I start slipping away. I hate the idea of him becoming my carer, and it terrifies me that I might not be “myself” at the end. That’s why we’re getting married in September. It’s not about a dress or a big party, it’s about making memories for Andy and making a commitment to each other.

Terminal illness has taught me to seize opportunities, so I have to trust him when he says he wants to be with me forever. Even if we don’t know how long that is.

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