Since today is Valentine’s Day, I thought I would tell you a bit about my Valentine – my husband. I met Marc in August of 2007, just three weeks before being diagnosed with Breast Cancer. We’d been out a few times, and I had no idea how to tell him the news. We hadn’t even had ‘the talk’ about being in an actual relationship. I thought for sure that my summer fling was going to run for the hills.
After I told my immediate family about my diagnosis, I called Marc to tell him. I will never forget his reaction. He said, “I’m very sorry to hear that.” Then we talked a bit about my fears, and how little I knew about my illness at that point. Before we got off the phone, he initiated plans for another date. I thought he was off his rocker.
We continued to date for the next few months while I had an additional surgery in November and then began chemo in January. I was impressed that he had stuck around through the surgery and recovery, but was still terrified that the minute I lost my hair, he would leave. I think my parents’ were worried about that too. I am certainly not my best self when I am sick and unhappy, never mind bald, sick and unhappy.
Our first Valentine’s Day was spent with me mostly trying to hold it together since my hair had started to fall out a few days earlier. Feeling romantic was a challenge to say the least. But we made it work, with dinner at my place and a cheesy movie to watch too.
To this day, I don’t know how or why we made it through my treatment, knowing each other for just a few months. My husband is a special man. He was there for me, listened to me, held my hand when I was scared and rubbed my back when it was so swelled and sore from chemo. He didn’t flinch when I took my wig off, and never said a word about my weight gain. He got used to seeing me in pajamas, and I don’t think I wore a bit of my usual makeup for months. He didn’t take it personally when I cried or yelled for no reason either. He was a trooper.
About six months after I finished up with my chemo, Marc admitted to me that while I was going through treatment, he had gone to a support group for people dealing with a loved one’s Breast Cancer. I was shocked – I’d had no idea. He said he wanted to better understand what I was going through and how to help. If I hadn’t already known he was a keeper, at that point it became crystal clear.
Even so, for a long time I worried that since we’d grown so close during a time where I was so vulnerable and needy, would we still get along when I didn’t need him so much? The dynamics of a relationship change so much when illness is introduced and I know that most people have a chance to get to know each other’s best selves before they get to know each other’s sick, un-showered, bald, depressed and anxious selves.
Today our relationship isn’t always about Cancer. It’s about who did the dishes, what’s on TV and where we’re going on Saturday night. It’s about how work was that day and what’s posted on Facebook. It feels much more balanced. I am so grateful to Marc for being there for me during my treatment, and also because he was there to witness the transformation to a healthy, happy me. He understands my continued anxiety surrounding annual MRIs and mammograms in a way he wouldn’t if we hadn’t gone through this together.
In many ways, the circumstances of our first year together (which I celebrated with no eyebrows while wearing a bad wig) were a blessing. I got to see how Marc handles crisis – with a level head and a sense of calm. And Marc got to see how I handle personal tragedy – using humor and a snarky attitude. When he proposed to me, there was not a doubt in my mind that Marc was the only man for me. Not because he’d seen me through Cancer, but because we’d gone through it together and come out united on the other side.