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A Fight for Love

by Stacie Rutar

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Phil and Stacie Rutar

I signed up for karate classes at a local dojo in December 2004 to learn self-defense and to get in shape. Although I had expected to learn how to fight, I had no idea that only three years later I would end up fighting for the love of my life in that very same dojo.

From the day I signed up, my chil­dren and I would be so excited to go to the dojo two nights a week for karate classes. Family karate classes were a precious bonding time. We made a lot of new friends. The dojo was like one big family. It became a major part of our lives.

After going through a divorce in 2007, I knew that I could lean on my friends at the dojo for support. My karate friends were always there for me, and I became especially close to my karate instructor, Phil Rutar. He understood my emotions, as he had endured a divorce only a year earlier. He had also been recently diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma, and we were just there for each other during our troubled times.

I soon began driving Phil to chemo­therapy sessions. We would listen to music together in the chemo area and comfort each other with laughter, stories, and words of encouragement.

I can vividly recall looking into his eyes on a warm Thursday evening at the dojo a few weeks later and seeing “Mr. Rutar” in an entirely different light. I have no idea when, or even how, I fell in love with Phil, but it was magical. I hugged him that night in the dojo after class and felt what I still describe as “electricity.”

I nearly melted. I had never felt so physically weak during or after any karate class. I could not quit thinking about Phil that evening, wondering why we had not felt love or chemistry like this before. We were close friends, and Phil was like a big brother to me. Not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that he and I would ever have a romantic connection.

I can vividly recall looking into his eyes on a warm Thursday evening at the dojo a few weeks later and seeing “Mr. Rutar” in an entirely different light.

I quickly discovered that the love I felt for Phil was mutual. Phil proposed to me on bended knee after a karate class only five months later. Although I was sweating profusely and my makeup was nearly gone due to intense training, I still managed to feel beautiful. My life was perfect in that moment. Our entire karate family cheered for us and shed their own happy tears, as we had both overcome so many obstacles in our lives.

Phil and I married on Dec 31, 2007. Our friends and family were present as we were both married in our karate gis (training uniforms).

Our elation was sharply halted by the news of Phil’s lymphoma relapse only three months after our wedding. Phil was tough, a third-degree black belt, but I knew he would need more than a black belt for a victory over cancer.

We drew closer to each other, closer to our five children, and closer to God. We believed that we had a purpose to­gether. Despite a 50-pound weight loss, countless lung infections, hair loss, and severe immune suppression, Phil hung on and fought with great stamina. He exhibited a strength that I had never seen before.

We had something that many peo­ple never find – true love. Nurses would comment on how in love we were, and they wondered how Phil and I could have fun during a stem cell transplant. We would sing, snug­gle, and laugh together. There were times when we were frightened, but we would pray and focus on our love for each other, which always seemed to melt away fears.

I knew that I had to fight for the love of my life. I had to stay strong for him. Although a sparring match in the dojo would have been much easier, a strong fight for Phil proved far more reward­ing. I had finally found a man who was loving, devoted, and faithful. And I was not about to let him go!

Now here we are two years post-transplant and free of cancer. We are more in love now than we have ever been. I somehow managed to earn my black belt during our struggle with can­cer. Phil was there cheering me on and, as always, fighting for me and fighting for love.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Stacie Rutar is a licensed and independent clinical social worker special­izing in substance dependency. She is the mother of three children and has a black belt in karate.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2011.