I think before I begin to tell my side of the story for Zane and me, I should offer some kind of disclaimer. Our story is more Lifetime movie than meet-cute RomCom. We had only been dating a few months when people began telling us that we should write a book. Yeah, I guess we had enough happen in a few months to write a book about it. Don’t worry, I won’t write a book here, but I can’t promise that it will be short either. I’m usually not a long-winded person, but I feel that trying to make our story brief won’t do it justice. God has moved mountains for us and brought us through trials together. And we’re not even married yet.
Zane and I are both nurses, and so we met working at the same hospital. Zane was working in the trauma ICU, and I was working on a medical oncology floor. One day I went up to his unit to visit a patient, a friend of mine. Zane was his nurse. I remember hearing about how great he was from my friend’s family. When I met him, I remember thinking about how kind, smart, and oh so very handsome he was. And he had the biggest and brightest smile I’d ever seen.
A few days later, I saw Zane at the deli in the hospital getting breakfast after our shift (we both worked night shift). I didn’t even want breakfast that morning, but when I saw him at the end of the line, I changed my mind just so I could talk to him. After a couple of minutes, we struck up conversation. He was very polite as always. You know Zane, he never meets strangers. We got our breakfast, said goodbye and parted ways. I remember calling my mother and telling her I got breakfast just to talk to a guy. I remember thinking that he probably had a girlfriend. Of course great guys like that already have girlfriends. I left thinking he definitely wasn’t interested in me. Fun fact, he didn’t remember this at all until I brought it up to him.
And so went the next 2 years. I was always happy to see him, and he was always nice. We made small talk and passed pleasantries. He asked me about a mission trip I took to Haiti once while we were in the elevator. Fun fact, I didn’t remember this until he brought it up to me. He definitely left thinking that I wasn’t interested in him. Well, I thought he had a girlfriend.
2 YEARS LATER he asked me out 2 months before I was starting my 2 year missionary term. I was moving to Virginia for 2 months for training and then moving to Lusaka, Zambia for the other 22 months. I remember that a mutual friend, Casey, came to me and said that a guy from the trauma ICU wanted to ask me to dinner. I had no clue who it could be. When she said Zane, I was shocked and so excited. The next day, Zane called and asked me to dinner. I remember telling myself that it was just dinner. It would be crazy to have a boyfriend when I’m living overseas. It’s just dinner. If he wants to be friends and keep in touch while I’m gone, that’s fine. It’s just dinner, no big deal right?
It was November 2015, we met at a hibachi restaurant in downtown Montgomery. I was wearing an outfit that took me 2 days to figure out. I was so nervous. We talked and talked. Talking to him was so easy. I was nervous so I stress-ate most of my meal. He was nervous so he barely touched his. I remember about halfway through dinner, praying, “God, I don’t think this is just dinner.” We finished dinner and didn’t want the date to end. We tried to walk around, but it was really cold. So we sat in his truck and talked and talked some more. I remember how he seemed so familiar even though we were just on our first date. Zane has this incredible way of making strangers feel like they’ve known him forever. I think that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with him so quickly.
So after that, we were dating. I kept telling him that I thought he was crazy for wanting to date me. After all, I am moving to Zambia in a few months. He told me that he wanted to be a missionary as well one day. He said “Why would I not look for someone who is already doing that?” Okay that makes sense. “But you’re sure right?” I would say. And he would always say, “Jo, I’m going to pursue you for as long as you’ll allow me.” (deep breath) Okay. We’re doing this.
A few weeks later, cancer happened. But we didn’t know that.
One night while we were both working, he texted me to tell me he was in the emergency room. His leg started swelling and his blood pressure was really high. His kidney levels were also abnormal. We had no idea what was happening. We were scared. He went home the next morning with compression hose and advice to lay off the protein shakes.
But it didn’t go away.
It wasn’t long before Zane was in the emergency room again. This time he spent the night, and I stayed with him. That was one of the longest nights of my life. We had no idea what was wrong. I remember feeling so comfortable being there for him, but it was so strange at the same time. I mean we had only been dating about 6 weeks. Everything happened so fast. It was like I was watching someone else living this life. It wasn’t that long ago that I was going to just dinner with Zane. Now we’re in love, and he’s sick, and I’m moving to another continent. This is not what I planned for my life at that stage. I wouldn’t want anything else, but falling in love was not part of my plan. I’m so thankful that God gives us people in our lives that we don’t even think that we need.
In the morning, the vascular surgeon put a stent in his left leg. He thought that Zane’s artery was compressing one of his veins causing his leg to swell. I sat in the waiting room in the hospital where we worked waiting on the procedure to be done. It was the same room I passed every day walking into work and leaving. I saw dozens and dozens of people in that room with worried looks on their faces waiting on their loved one to be done with surgery. Their faces both worried and hopeful that that things will now be better. Now I was that person. I was the one waiting on my loved one watching nurses in blue scrubs and doctors in white coats walking by. It makes me think of when F. Scott Fitzgerald said “I was both within and without.” I was both the nurse and the waiting girlfriend.
Everything went great with the procedure. The stent was placed, and so we were hopeful that things would be better. But they didn’t get better. I still got on a plane to Virginia for training. I was so nervous to leave him. I am so blessed to have a family that wouldn’t let Zane go through this alone. They promised to take care of him. So I went. And Zane went back to the vascular surgeon because he wasn’t improving. They did a scan. A few days later I got a call that Zane had a tumor in his pelvis. That’s what was wreaking havoc on his body. They said it could be anything: benign, lymphoma, testicular cancer — the options seemed endless. We cried and prayed for days. I sought God for healing. I prayed and prayed and prayed against cancer.
The longest days of my life passed. I was on speaker phone when the oncologist said he had testicular cancer. Who knew that a six letter word could be so terrifying? He told us that it has a 97% cure rate. That’s good news at least. He gave us the plan. Chemo would be intense, but effective. I thought back to one night sometime after the stent placement. I remember he looked at me and said, “Jo what if this is cancer?” I quickly cut him off. I was an oncology nurse. I saw cancer everyday. I knew what it did to people. I saw what chemo did to people. I couldn’t possibly wrap my brain around the fact that the man I love could have cancer. Now cancer is our reality. Cancer is his reality.
After the diagnosis, my family made a plan to spend that weekend in Atlanta. I jumped on a plane and met them there. At the airport, I gave Zane a hug for the millionth time. But this time, I knew he had cancer. Every time I held his hand, all I could think of was the cancer in his body. The cancer that came so suddenly. The cancer was so loud and intrusive in my brain; it was always on the back of my mind. That weekend was amazing. It was a time for us to rally behind Zane and just spend time together. We were a team ready to fight this together. And fight we did.
It wasn’t long before Zane started his chemotherapy treatments. He schedule was rigorous. They said the treatment was like killing a fly with a bazooka gun. I don’t really care what kills the fly as long as the fly is dead and stays dead. Less than 2 months later, Zane came with my family to Virginia to see my commissioning ceremony. He was bald and hated wearing his face mask in public. Chemo and germs don’t exactly get along. He flew home with me while my parents and sister drove back. We drew a red beard and mustache on his mask. We definitely used it to get seats together on the plane. If you’re going to have cancer, might as well take advantage of a few perks.
I spent the next month at home. I was able to extend my time for 2 weeks to help see Zane through his treatments. I told him that if he asked me to stay and not go to Zambia, I probably would. He never asked me to stay. He told me to move to Zambia. He said that God’s plan for me is way bigger than him. He knew that following the Lord was more important than cancer.
Zane’s last cancer treatment was a big celebration for us. He rang the bell at the cancer center, and he never looked back. Those long hours of sitting and watching the minutes pass by was over. This was one big leap forward to putting this crazy season of life behind us.
3 days later, my family, Zane, and I were in a car going to the airport. I was really leaving. I was so scared I was shaking. Zane never faltered. He never doubted that my moving to Zambia was what was right. When I got to security and watched my family, the people I love most, walk away, I knew that I was alone. It was me and God. I am so thankful that I got on the plane. That was by far the scariest thing I have ever done, and I have never doubted that it was the right thing to do.
Zane was in remission that following summer. That was the 6 craziest months of my life. Sometimes it all feels like a dream.
The next 8 months were spent FaceTiming and texting. We got lucky because Zane worked night shift so the time difference wasn’t as bad. We made it work. We got pretty good at long distance dating. Then my family and him came to visit. We had some incredible adventures. We walked with the lions, saw Victoria Falls, and most importantly, got engaged! I loved that we got engaged in Zambia. After everything we’ve been through, it seemed perfect that he traveled 8,000 miles to propose to me. I realized that we had been dating for more than a year, and when he came to visit me in December 2016, that was the first time I had seen him when he didn’t have cancer. Finally. Now it’s been a year since we’ve gotten engaged. We’ve seen each other once since then. I am so thankful I was able to go back home for Bethany and Tanner’s wedding. But shout out to technology because we really see each other everyday.
Don’t get me wrong, long distance is not fun. But not having him in my life is unthinkable. We make it work. We’ve gotten pretty good at communication. Zane always knows when something is wrong with me, and he makes me talk about it. We trust each other, and we do everything we can to make time for each other. It’s been so hard and such a great way to know someone. And even from 8,000 miles away, Zane has such a presence in my life here. Our story has had such an impact here. I love sharing our story. I love bragging about my amazing man. I love telling women that they should wait for someone who loves them as much as Zane loves me. I love our crazy amazing adventure of a story.
So here’s to the next adventure that will last an entire lifetime.
A little over two years ago is when I asked Jo out on our first date. We worked in the same hospital together, and I remember seeing her for the first time and thinking, “Wow that gal is really beautiful!” One of my friend’s from work told me one day that she knew of the perfect girl for me and said I needed to ask her out on a date. When she told me it was Jo, I was immediately sold on that idea. We went on our first date to a hibachi restaurant in the downtown area where we lived (this was before I found out she had a shrimp allergy) and we immediately hit it off. Conversation was easy and it felt like we had known each other our whole lives. What I thought would be a two-hour date turned into 7 hours of us talking about anything and everything. I loved hearing her heart for Jesus and the passion she had for overseas missions. She was telling me how in two months she would be leaving for her training to do two years of mission work in Zambia. I asked her at the end of our date, “I know this is probably going to sound weird since you’re about to leave the country for two years, but would you like to go out again”? She said yeah and we packed more dates into the next two months than most couples probably do in six.
When the day came for her to leave for Richmond, VA. I was filled with bittersweet emotions. Part of me was excited about the course her life was about to take. She was about to embark on a journey to another country and immerse herself in another culture for two years to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the Zambians around her. The other part of me was sad she was leaving. I had just started dating the most amazing woman, a woman I had prayed for, for so many years and now she was leaving for two years. Without a doubt God led us to be together, but I believe he was also teaching us patience and molding us for marriage into what he wanted us to become.
Two weeks before Jo left I was having some odd medical issues, that at the time I didn’t think were too serious. Then two days after she left I started having bad back pain. After going to the doctor for like the tenth time that month they did a CT of my abdomen and found I had a tumor a little larger than a baseball in my pelvis. So here we are, my girlfriend just left to soon be in Africa for two years, I just had been accepted to nurse practitioner school, and I also have testicular cancer (you can’t make this stuff up). After I found out the news I talked with Jo about it. Both of us were still in disbelief. I told her about the road ahead and going through chemotherapy. I also told her she didn’t have to go through this with me. The road would be tough, and she would be in another country. That’s a whole lot to ask of a new girlfriend. But Jo has a heart of gold and her family is incredible. They assured her they would take care of me while going through treatment. I feel that the Lord used this sickness to make us stronger together, but also to mold us into having an even stronger relationship with him. He showed us his healing power to do all things. He showed us that he provides in all circumstances, whether it be through sickness, financial difficulties, or living in the bush somewhere not knowing if you’re going to have food the next day. He will always provide and take care of us until our work on this earth is done.
Every day we were able to talk to each other through FaceTime (thank God for technology), texts, phone calls and letters. We definitely have been able to work on our communication skills for the last 2 years. I knew I wanted to marry this girl soon after we started dating, and about 4 months into our relationship I asked Mr. Cary (her father) if I could marry Jordan. He said yes and the next few months I started saving up for the ring. Over the following weeks and months we spent a lot of time on FaceTime (again thank God for technology). She was busy learning a whole new world and making friends. She was building relationships and leading others to Jesus. Now that I had finished with chemotherapy, I was back at work and in school full-time. I was working on my nurse practitioner degree with the hope of using this career for overseas missions.
Fast forward to December 2016 and we take a family vacay to Africa. I was so pumped! I was about to see my girlfriend that I hadn’t seen in person in over 8 months. Mr. Cary, Mrs. Lauri, Bethany and I were able to spend ten days in the culture Jo was now calling home. It was amazing to see with my eyes what Jo had been describing for so long. Africa was beautiful and amazing; the people there were beautiful and amazing. Being there felt like a second home and I didn’t want to leave. We spent the following days meeting missionaries and Zambians she had come to know as family. She took us around the city of Lusaka as well as travel to Victoria Falls in Livingstone. It’s hard to describe in words everything we were experiencing, but take my word for it, it was all incredible.
December 23rd was a big day for us, although at the moment she did not know that yet. This is the day I would ask Jo to marry me. I was trying to think of the perfect time to ask her without her suspecting anything. That evening the missionaries she worked with were having a dinner for all of us. These people had become Jo’s second family and what better time to celebrate an engagement than now? It was before dinner and I was standing outside in a little garden area next to her apartment. I was standing next to some avocado trees and flowers when she came down to look for me. As we stood there looking at the flowers I told her she was one of the greatest blessings God had ever given me. I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me. She said YES! It was one of the happiest moments of my life and now we got to celebrate it with family and friends. The next few hours we spent calling friends and family back in the states to tell them the news. It was an incredible night.
When it came time to leave Zambia it was tough saying goodbye to Jo as you could imagine. But I knew she was in good hands with all of her family there. The Lord was blessing her and her work there, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.
Fast forward to today (January 7th) and we are just 118 days away from our wedding day and only 12 days until Jo is back in the states! I am so, so ready to see her. These last two years have been hard, wonderful, sad, joyous, tough, incredible, busy and tons of other emotions and adjectives, but we wouldn’t trade them for anything. The Lord has been good to us and is building us and using us for a greater purpose. I believe that purpose is to bring Himself glory and to bring others to Jesus. He loves all of us and wants the best for us. That doesn’t always mean life will be sunshine and rainbows, but it will make for a great adventure.