real life

Stacey Cross was 25 when she became a carer to her partner.

Stacey Cross was just 22 when she first laid her eyes on Dane. He was laughing and joking with reception staff at the organisation she was joining that day. A wide-eyed new graduate, Stacey remembers being taken aback by the “young, good-looking guy in the wheelchair”, but being her first day at a new job, she quickly focused on the task at hand. 

Dane was 27, easy to talk to with a calming presence - the pair hit it off immediately. They were in other relationships at the time, but their friendship escalated quickly, 

“The idea of being a couple never crossed my mind. He was a friendly colleague who became a great friend, and that’s where it stayed for about three years.”

In 2010, when both were newly single, Dane told Stacey he’d had a dream about her. To this day, she not sure if it was a pickup line or if he really did have a dream. Either way, it worked. 

“I instantly started looking at him in a different light. His eyes, his smile, his charm, his confidence … that was me, I’d fallen," she told Mamamia

She knew little about his disability, only learning about the accident that caused it about a year before Dane's dream —a spinal cord injury, playing touch football.

“I just thought Dane couldn’t move or feel his legs, simple right? How wrong I was.

“Once Dane and I became a couple, it was an accelerated journey into the world of spinal injury—Autonomic Dysreflexia, catheters, bowel routines, pressure care, temperature regulation, erectile dysfunction (and the medications for it).


“It was the usual ‘honeymoon phase’—butterflies in the stomach, romantic dates, intense passion—mixed with a crash course in nursing!”

Dane's disability didn't stop the couple having a blast. Image: Supplied

Decision time. 

Before things got serious, Dane insisted Stacey, now 38, really think about what she was getting herself into.


“The chemistry had well and truly heated up. I was at work, and I got an email from Dane, titled: Something to consider, with an attachment.”

She opened the attachment to find a fact sheet about Autonomic Dysreflexia. With every word, the situation seemed more dire, culminating with a warning that the condition could cause “severe high blood pressure may cause seizures, bleeding in the eyes, stroke, or death”. 

“So here I was, a smitten almost 25-year-old, giddy with excitement over my new love interest, facing a reality that was actually extremely serious and confronting. Some girls get flowers, I got a medical fact sheet.”

Despite an element of scariness surrounding Dane’s disability, Stacey had no doubts. 

“Once we’d had ‘the chat’ and had become a couple, there was no stopping us. We both had similar hopes and dreams for the future: travel, marriage and kids… and Dane’s disability wasn’t stopping us."

Dane and Stacey are keen travellers. Image: Supplied


A partner, a lover, a mother, and a carer.

“I slipped into the ‘carer’ role very organically," shares Stacey. "As our relationship evolved, I became his main source of assistance, when we went out and about together. Dane kind of felt that having a support worker following us around on dates was cramping his style. Then, when we moved in together, I was obviously with him all the time anyway.”

These days, Dane, 43, has an external support worker who helps most days, but for the 16 hours she’s not rostered on, Dane's care falls to Stacey. 

“Emergency catheter changes, bowel accidents, pressure care, overnight assistance, cups of tea, meals, I’m there. Throw in three young kids and it gets busy… very busy.”

About a year into their relationship, they headed off on a six-week European adventure. "Talk about nothing stopping us, not even the 400 bridges over the canals in Venice slowed us down! I’d already known it, but this trip just reaffirmed that Dane was 'The One'.


"We really try to make the most of our holidays, exploring new places, going on adventures and, occasionally relaxing by the pool (with a cocktail in hand)."

Dane and Stracey tried to conceive naturally for a couple of months before being told IVF was their only option. 

“It was a literal emotional rollercoaster. The hormone-altering medications are hard enough to deal with, but when you have canceled cycles, followed by unsuccessful transfers, followed by miscarriage, the process is so emotionally, physically and financially draining, it was tough.”

But it was all worth it, leading to the birth of Ashton, 10, and Dawson, six. Like any working family with young children, finding time for passion and romance isn’t always easy. But like most of us, Dane and Stacey take the opportunity when and where they can get it. It was one of those stolen moments of passion that led to the birth of their baby girl Eadie - an unexpected natural conception, despite Stacey having PCOS and Dane having low sperm count and mobility. 

“We thought our baby phase was done. We’d started travelling around, branching out further, post Covid. We managed a road trip in New Zealand, only to get home and, soon-there-after, discovered that I was pregnant. It defied belief."

Image: Supplied


Keeping the passion alive.

“I’ve been asked the question ‘what’s a girl like you doing with someone like Dane?’ many times,” shares Stacey. 

“Dane's personality, his sense of humour, his resilience, and his view of the world are what attracted me to him. Our connection goes far beyond physical appearance or abilities.

“I’d be lying if I told you it was easy though - because it’s not. Some days are an absolute train wreck. I get into bed those nights and wonder how I got through the day,” shares Stacey, especially now that little Eadie has come along. 


“Dane isn’t able to pick her up, change a nappy, feed her, wake in the middle of the night to comfort her or pat her back to sleep. This means that every wake up, every feed, every nappy change (and everything in between) is up to me.”

But, she says, the good times, far outweigh the bad. And contrary to common belief, Dane's disability is no barrier to intimacy - little Eadie is proof of that. 

“We’re a lot like any other family. We both work, with the usual work/school/kid’s extra curricula activities juggle but, on weekends, we love to get out about, enjoying the surf, sun and sand. 

“Like any couple, we enjoy romantic moments and have a fulfilling intimate life. Every relationship finds its own ways to express love and affection, and ours is no different.”

Image: Supplied



Stacey believes many people assume relationships involving a person with a disability are different from other relationships.

“While there are unique challenges, the core elements of love, respect, and companionship are universal. Dependence in a relationship can be emotional and practical, and it flows both ways.”

People often think having children with someone who has a disability is either impossible or unfair, says Stacey. But she says her children are growing up in a loving, nurturing environment, while learning valuable lessons about diversity, resilience, and empathy from an early age. 

"Their immediate friends, classmates, and teammates are also learning (indirectly) that disability is a normal part of everyday life. They see Dane as their soccer coach or just another dad, attending school events or assemblies, supporting his children to achieve their best.”

Dane and Stacey would like to see more accessibility in Australia. Image: Supplied


Cross Family Adventures.

Stacey and Dane are keen travellers, and while they don't let much stop them, sometimes accessibility can get in the way. Through Cross Family Adventures, the couple are on a mission to improve accessibility to ensure as many people as possible can explore as much of the world as everyone else. 

“My initial goal with Cross Family Adventures was to encourage those with a disability to get out and adventure. But that’s actually not my drive anymore. My drive has shifted to wanting non-disabled people to look at our page and see that, although Dane uses a chair, we are like anyone else, we just come with wheels.


“When disability is just accepted as a normal part of everyday life, only then have we, as advocates, done our job.”

Stacey says there’s a long way to go to create a universally accessible world.

“People with disability need to be involved in the experience, participating in the activity, not simply by-standers watching alongside while other people have a good time. To achieve this, there needs to be a shift in society’s awareness and understanding of disability."

Stacey and Dane created Cross Family Adventures to raise challenge and change attitudes towards disability. Image: Supplied


More than his wheelchair.

“Dane is much more than a man in a wheelchair—he's a loving husband, a doting father, a hard worker who is great at his job, and an active member of the community. Our journey together has taught me the invaluable lessons of resilience, patience, and the power of a positive outlook.”

But, she says, self-care is critical, especially for caregivers. 

“It’s easy to get lost in the role of caring for someone else, but it's crucial to remember that your well-being is just as important. Taking time for yourself, nurturing your passions, and maintaining social connections are vital for mental and emotional health. I’m still learning this myself.

“Lastly, to anyone facing similar challenges, know that you're not alone. There's a whole community out there who understands and supports you. Don’t hesitate to reach out, share your experiences, and seek support when needed. Together, we can work towards a more inclusive and accessible world for everyone.”

Feature image: Supplied

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