My First Love Passed Away When He Was 27 and This Is How I Chose to Handle It

Christmas is meant to be such a wonderful time of year — not a time when you find out a loved one has cancer.

I was 21 years old and had just been on a date night with my boyfriend at the time, Jake. Later that night, after we drifted off to sleep, I was woken up by Jake hitting me in the back. He was having a seizure.

An ambulance was called, and he was taken to hospital. After many doctors, nurses, scans; it was the following day on Christmas Eve when those life-changing words were said…“it’s a brain tumour.”

Jake was 24 years old and was just diagnosed with brain cancer. We had been together for just over a year and there was never any indication that anything serious was wrong.

Over the next three years, Jake underwent two terrifying craniotomies, numerous chemotherapies appointments, many radiation sessions, and frequent appointments at hospitals until one day; the cancer stopped responding to all the treatments.

Danielle Paparone
Image: Danielle Paparone

He tried absolutely everything the doctors threw at him, but at the end of it all, there was nothing more they could do.

I desperately searched the internet as much as I could to prepare myself for Jake’s impending death. But nothing could have prepared me for what was going to happen. Limb by limb, Jake started to lose movement in his body. He soon needed a walking frame, then a wheelchair and then a hospital bed.

Soon after, Jake slipped into a coma, and he never woke again. In the early hours of Saturday, October 22, 2016, Jake passed away peacefully at just 27 years old.

Brain cancer claimed his life in the most inhumane way, I then knew it was my turn to step up and fight this disease as best I could now.

I couldn’t influence the outcome of Jake’s prognosis, but I could control what I did afterwards. I chose to channel my emotional experience into a driving force to raise money for vital brain cancer research and awareness.

When I was grieving, jewellery making helped to keep my mind distracted. One day, I created this bracelet that I loved. Staring at it attentively, it suddenly crossed my mind what it was that I needed to do.

I set up an Etsy store, an Instagram page and started an online shop — Pearl Meets Crystal, which features handmade Swarovski jewellery. The profits from the bracelet go directly to help fund vital brain cancer research and support the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation.

Image: Instagram @pearlmeetscrystal

Months before Jake passed, I decided I would never get into another relationship again. After experiencing every single facet of being in a relationship, I thought there was nothing else left for me to uncover. I had experienced the highs, lows, the great and the heartbreak.

I was also terrified of the same thing happening again. I knew it was extremely unlikely that it would happen again, but it’s incredibly hard to shake the overwhelming feeling.

It was two and a half years later when I met Richard. He had big brown eyes, a warm smile, and a great sense of humour. Even though I was scared, I knew it was now time to open my heart again. Dating again was difficult, but Richard could not have been more patient, understanding, and supportive.

Richard and I are now married and living in the beautiful first home we purchased together.

Image: Danielle Paparone

Although sometimes I do still get triggered by Jake’s traumatising death, it does get easier with time and the support of an amazing partner, family, and friends. I am still just as determined as ever to keep making jewellery and raising funds for brain cancer research.

You can catch Danielle sharing her story on how first loves can really impact you and future relationships on SBS’s Insight on Tuesday, March 29, 2022, plus re-runs.

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