Dealing with a cancer (or any other significant medical) diagnosis will bring both physical and emotional challenges. Emotions run high, tempers flare, some withdraw and shut down and it can be devastating to careers and finances. According to Michael J. Glantz in an article written by WebMD, this is especially true if you are a woman diagnosed with cancer.
Next week will be three years since Marvin and I started dating. Our relationship has always been quite unique. He is very ambitious, stoic, independent, domesticated. He is confident and has always accepted me for who I am. I am determined, passionate, maybe a little dramatic and free spirited. Together we’ve always managed life well. The bills are paid on time, there’s always groceries in the fridge even if I haven’t made it to the grocery store, our kids eat way more vegetables than I ever did growing up and after school commitments are always met. During free and childless times, which we are fortunate enough to have fairly often being we are blended with reasonable co-parenting relationships, we have enjoyed fine dining, dancing, barhopping or movie nights. Occasionally, we partake in girls nights or guys nights out with friends. Always without jealously, suspicion or possessive responses. On paper, we were perfect.
Marvin and I were together for one year before we experienced our first trauma together. It was a sudden loss neither of us expected at all and was our first lesson in how we would manage life’s speed bumps as partners. I was torn up, sad, mad and my coping strategy has always been hiding behind anger and independence. He was torn up, sad, mad and his coping strategy was to withdraw. It was the start of a very lonely time in our relationship. Over the course of the next 7 months, we experienced another two traumas. Again, unexpected life events that were like being hit by a freight train, spinning around still on the tracks and being smoked by the train coming the other way too.
We realized somewhere in between these events, maybe after the third, that something wasn’t working for us. We were together and the daily grind was still being accomplished but we were both lonely. Over a series of very heated arguments, we came to the conclusion that we needed to start talking to each other and not just, ‘What would you like for dinner?’, or, ‘How was your day honey?’. We needed to start talking about our needs, our life plan, and we needed to have compassion for each other. It was the beginning of a major shift in our relationship. We had a long way to go. As I’m sure you well know, growth and change doesn’t just happen overnight.
I can remember Marvin and I having a conversation in August 2017 which went something like this, ‘I want to marry you’, to which I replied, ‘We have issues we need to work out before we agree to commit the rest of our lives together and I’m not sure we can work them out’. Marvin was anxious to pop the question and I, being the perfectionist I’ve always been (I’ll never admit that again), made it clear that if he proposed, I may not be able to say yes. It could, in fact, have been the end of our relationship.
Four months later, we were sitting in a hospital room waiting to find out which hospital would be able to accept me for immediate treatment of Acute Promyelotic Leukemia. I had 24 hours left to live before I would likely experience a brain hemorrhage that would kill me because I didn’t have enough clotting agents in my blood to stop the bleeding. I was terrified. My first thought was, ‘People don’t come back from leukemia’. I was terrified for my daughters futures. What losing me when our kids were so young would do to our family. I couldn’t even hug my kids before I left for treatment. Marvin was with me in the hospital within an hour of me calling, in a panic and providing very vague details. I knew that he could choose to walk out the door at that very moment. We are after all in our mid-thirties and there is so much more life to live. He shouldn’t have to deal with a sick girlfriend. I may not even have blamed him if he had. But he didn’t. He stayed.
Marvin and I cuddled together in my hospital bed that night after the rush of nurses, doctors, IVs and mountains of pills. I remember very distinctly the epiphany that, in the grand scheme of life, none of the ‘issues’ we needed to work out were really that big a deal. If I died in that hospital bed and any of those issues been resolved, would it make a difference in the end? No, it wouldn’t have made a difference at all. And what’s more, if Marvin and I had split as a result of those issues, would it have been worth the loss? Prior to getting sick, my pride would have said ‘Yes, I warned him…’. In reality, it would have been a devastating tragedy. None of the issues we were so stuck on were insurmountable. In fact, they should never have been the catalyst for whether I chose to marry him in the first place. What it came down to was whether we were equally willing to put in the effort to work on the issues that existed and all of the other issues that would arise through the course of our lives. It became crystal clear that issues would always come up and all that mattered was how we tackled them together. I said to him,
‘I’m ready now’,
He responded, ‘Ready for what?’,
I said, ‘I’m ready to marry you’,
‘Are you proposing to me?’,
‘No. I’m proposing you propose to me!’. We had a good laugh in spite of the situation.
Over the next three weeks, Marvin slept every night on the chair in my hospital room with me. He hugged me when I needed a hug and he brought me healthy food to help my body fight. I didn’t even have to fill out any of my paperwork. He did it all. He was there for me every single step of the way.
On Christmas Eve, my family came to the hospital to spent the evening with me. My kids came in their beautiful dresses, meant to be worn for the dinner we planned on hosting that night at our home. My dad even brought a trolley with all our family presents in tow. We put a blanket down in the waiting room and we had Christmas. It certainly wasn’t the Christmas any of us expected. Many people said, ‘It must suck to be stuck in there for the holidays! Can’t you get a day pass?’, to which I responded, ‘I am alive. I’m grateful to have made it to Christmas this year, even if it is in the hospital. This is where they want me so this is where I will stay’.
The following day, I had visitors in and out. Marvin came back to spend the evening and night with me while my Dad and step-Mom were visiting. He cracked a couple of jokes to my Dad about being his wife, to which I shot back, ‘Well, there will have to be a wedding before that happens!’ and laughed.
He handed me his laptop and opened a powerpoint presentation (What do you think he does for a living? I’ll give you 3 guesses!) and it was pictures of our daughters standing in front of the tree in the foyer of the hospital with pieces of paper with notes on them. They were smiling and laughing together as I flipped through the pictures. They told me that my girls love me and that Marvin does too. In the final picture, our girls asked me if I would marry him.
Marvin stood in front of me and took his sweater off. Underneath he wore a white t-shirt with #Marry Me scrolled on the front in red and green paint. I stood up and hugged him before he even had a chance to get down on one knee. He placed my engagement ring on my finger. There we were standing in my hospital room, chemotherapy hung on my IV pole, swollen from all the medication being pumped into my body on Christmas Day, still not even sure I would live to get married but we were engaged.
What did we do next? Naturally, we chopped all my hair off!
What should have been a depressing holiday season became the most heartfelt and memorable one of our lives. For me, the moral of the story is, life is not perfect, nor are people. The most enjoyment comes from life when we are able to see the beauty in the imperfections and appreciate the special moments and special people who share the journey with us.
Until next time…you’ve got this!