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I am the founder of Stand up Speak up and this is my love story. I am telling it as I want it be documented that without him, I would not be who I am today. Without him I do not think I could handle of stage 4 diagnosis as well as I do. He lets me focus on living and being Happy. This store is my passionate project and he has given me the latitude to make it about creating awareness and not profits.
When we first met, I knew I was going to marry him; even though I could not pronounce his last name. I even announced to my family that I had found “the one”. It wasn’t until 3 years after we met that he took more notice of me romantically. That wasn’t a total loss as by then we had developed a great friendship. He saw something in me that I had not yet seen myself and treated me like I was already that person that I would become. I admired how he was so focused on his children, family and career. I would have succumbed romantically to him on day zero, but it took Al almost a thousand days to see me as more than a friend.
When I met him, he was a tall, dark and most handsome man I had ever met... a true Prince Charming! I thought he was much younger than he was. He never talked about age, but when I did find out, I didn’t see him as older. I quickly became concerned on how to get him not to be put off by my age and to see me as older and more mature. Most women that date older men are looking for a father figure, but that was not my case; I have a great relationship with my father. On occasion I found myself trying to prove to him that I could do everything in business without his wisdom; sometimes pushing him away and competing with him, trying to be independent. I often worried my employees would want him to be their direct manager rather then me; or that I was too strict in trying to prove my place as their boss. I was more demanding of my team compared to Al. I think I felt that I had more to prove. I would argue with him on many subjects, but he would remain calm and reassure me he was always on my side and my biggest fan! He was always softer and dealt with issues differently than I had ever seen in business. It took me time to understand that my team respected Al and me equally but that our styles were different.
Fast forward to when I was 30 and Al was 54. We eloped just after we had launched the operation in Czech Republic and decided to focus on building a family together. When Zach was in my belly, I had a stroke. Al was concerned for my health, yet humble enough to involve my family for support. This created a closer bond with my family and his.
We saw that we had so much in common and started to raise dogs and family together. I enjoyed my stepchildren, but it wasn’t without difficulty. I was only 10 years older than my eldest stepson (he was 17, I was 27), and felt awkward on how to connect with them. I got some wise advice to be there as a friend figure versus trying to mother them. I could have been more compassionate through their teen years, but I was not a typical teen, so I did not understand their party choices, but as time has gone our relationship has grown and matured and I love them very much. I did enjoy our vacations and times together. I also admire how well their mother raised their boys while Al lived and worked in foreign countries, resulting in them being kind and responsible men today.
After Zach’s birth, I suffered from post partum depression and hid it the best I could but often making Al’s life difficult. I consumed all my energy, holding it together at work; saving nothing for home life. Having a fantastic nanny, Sarka Hajkova was a blessing that was of tremendous aide in the process. Al’s parenting style of his boys always impressed me and no matter what his boys were up too he always loved and protected them.
As we repatriated to North America after 11 plus years, we temporarily settled in Florida and unfortunately, I encountered more health challenges. I likely was afflicted by Blastomycosis (a fungal spore) from our cottage region and it took two years of my health to heal, as I had to take a daily antibiotic, Sporanox all that time. In a bit of irony, our Great Dane, Laguna also had this antibiotic and since we weighed about the same, I’d borrow her pills if I ran short! Al, my biggest fan was there by my side. I also had a small mole on my foot that the doctor was concerned about as a skin cancer waiting to grow and so surgery resolved that issue and I received an all clear diagnosis.
My stepsons joined us on their vacations and our relationships grew in the right direction. Al and I faced a new challenge of living together 24/7, no jobs to go to each day and no house support staff that we’d gotten acclimatized to while living abroad. I was nervous not having all my supports (like nanny, driver, house help, my routines etc., but after a few weeks we fell into a new routine and I felt so blessed to wake up daily with Al and Zach by my side, growing together stronger as a family.
I should mention that prior to getting married we purchased land in Lake of the Woods to build our dream cottage, my aspiration since I was a young girl. Ironically the cottage was the only house we owned in the first 10 years of our marriage! It was my haven, my ultimate favourite place in the world. He embraced cottage life with open arms and spent every summer holiday there! It surprised me how he adapted so readily to cottage life, seeing that it wasn’t his lifelong dream.
Al fit in perfectly with my family and to this day he will turn if needed to my family for support and input. Al is such a thoughtful man that he would always include my family at Christmas, even personally shopping for his gifts to give to the gals in my family! He embraces our closeness and is so generous with them. He honours my parents, which warms my heart too.
Growing up I was angry at the world. Nothing seemed to make me happy. I fought and lased out at everything in life. Being with Al brought out the best in me through his unconditional love, as again, he really is my biggest fan! I needed Al in my life, I needed someone to help me see things in a different light and to guide me away from anger.
His artist abilities always blow my mind. I can think of anything and voila, he makes it come to life even better than I had envisioned it. He has been the creative force behind our homes and cottage, taking pride in what he creates. He has been a great travel companion, especially to horse riding ranches. I have enjoyed seeing parts of the world together, building fond memories for me to remember in these times.
We have our occasional tiffs, but Al can diffuse them quickly. After my stroke I found that I needed extra medications, but sometimes I went off the meds that I needed. Al encouraged me to go back on them by reasoning with me. Al sees me for the better person that I am and can be and never makes me feel low or put down. I never feel his expectations of me are not met.
Al is not that overbearing mushy guy. He is not the “I love you” every 10 minutes sap. He shows his love through acts of kindness. Sometimes I must fish for a compliment to hear him say I am beautiful...and when he does say it, he means it! I just feel loved by everything that he does for me!
We had a great life going until again I was starting to get sick. we were both frustrated with my aches and pains on my body and we believed the doctors when they told us that I was merely having mental health issues, likely linked to my prior stroke. I know that we are still kicking ourselves for not being better advocates for my health. On October 5th, 2018 our lives started to make more sense. I was not mentally ill - I have stage four breast cancer.
Through my cancer diagnosis Al has wore many hats - a nurse, administrative assistant, taxi driver, pill picker-upper, personal assistant, delivery man, event planner, advocate for health, book keeper, meal preparation planner, appointment organizer, finance backer, occupational therapist assistant (gathering assistive devices), massager, back washer (in the shower)... basically anything involving me has became his full time job. He never complains, he just does it. Being friends before being partners has given us a friendship that helps us through these rough times.
We always knew that I would outlive Al because of our age difference, but now it does not look that way. It is hard to believe that we will not grow old together with our sons. Sometimes I think I would rather it be this way... thinking of life without Al is unimaginable. Being apart is a thought I cannot explore. Al is my research advocate and is looking globally at all possible options to keep my cancer at bay and to prolong my life. He believes in miracles and believes we will find one. He is a person that never gives up.
I know he regrets the way that things have turned out and there is sometimes an unspoken sadness and mourning of our robbed future time together. What I do love, is that we are able connect stronger than ever through cancer and take a huge positive from something terrible. Cancer has brought my family together even closer than before and is enabling us to say the things we might not normally say and embrace each moment together. Life is incredibly short when a person has a terminal illness, to me it feels not as short with all the extra time I get to spend with Al and Zach.
I feel that I cannot express how amazing this man is to me and that there are not be enough words to describe him. I realize that he his is my soulmate, my one and only.
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