'In Sickness and in Health:’ My Cancer Diagnosis Tested Our Wedding Vows

After being diagnosed with cancer, an amazing posse of loved ones formed around me, but perhaps nobody was as helpful as my loving husband.

When I was diagnosed with cancer in April, it wasn’t long before my trusted cancer posse was assembled, recruited from among my family and friends across the country.

It was really commissioned by my married daughter who was teaching at a college in Mississippi, who first recruited her younger brother back in the Boston area. She swung into action, doing digital research on my oncology team, asking cogent questions about my treatment plan, setting up “meal trains” online (I had no idea that was even a thing).

The two young folks sent what became my salvation: a red Vitamix blender and the hugest tub of protein powder, recommended by my son, the fitness trainer. My children have truly been absolute blessings throughout this experience.

But, as I spend these autumn days undergoing chemotherapy and managing the side effects of treatment, it is increasingly apparent that one posse tri-captain has a role unlike that of the other two. He has been there from the first tell-tale blood spots. He accompanied me to the gynecologist appointments for examinations and the inevitable biopsy, listening intensely to my recounting of the diagnosis, desperately trying to hide his palpable fears.

My husband Steven accompanies me on this journey in ways unique to our relationship of more than four decades and to his personal stake in the destination.

Steven spent the night in an uncomfortable bedside chair at the hospital during my recovery from a total hysterectomy in May. He was my on-call nursing assistant through the first nights of recovery, fetching water or food and checking on my comfort. We almost got lost hunting for the site of the June surgery to implant the chest port at 6:30 a.m. before the sun had risen. When summer brought external beam radiation daily for five grueling weeks at one center, one day weekly of low-dose chemo (cisplatin) at another and internal brachytherapy radiation at yet a separate site, he never complained about the morning appointments that felt like the grind of an underpaid job.

My husband would fill a thermos of coffee before our dash down the expressway, somewhat bleary-eyed but determined.

He started using a special phrase —“real-deal, Holyfield chemo” (he is an avid boxing fan) — to describe the current treatment regimen of carboplatin and docetaxel that started in September for six rounds and seems to be the most debilitating.

I think this has been the scariest leg of the journey for him. He has been concerned about my appetite loss, frequently encouraging me to eat and reminding me to take the steroid pills before treatments. Steven eagerly imbibes the Mason jars of experimental smoothies I mix routinely, not to mention the delicious entrees delivered by kith and kin. We laugh about it and make irreverent jokes sometimes, our personal version of gallows humor, I suppose, as we try to hold on mightily to sanity.

Yes, we have argued fiercely at times. And I have stated adamantly that this is my journey to process as I walk it, hopefully with his understanding. When I decided to share my diagnosis on social media to promote cancer awareness and to garner support of a greater number of friends, Steven was skeptical.

Now, when I blithely run errands sans scarf or ballcap, proudly displaying my bald pate, I think he feels uncomfortable that my shorn locks announce my illness for all to see. Sometimes I catch him surreptitiously checking my eyebrows and eyelashes to be sure they are still there. And the myths and stigma attached to cancer throughout the past have not escaped Steven, feeding his dread and stress. It has been a struggle for me, but for him, also.

My cancer posseis comprised of advance scouts, looking for gaping potholes and twisting turns, sending prayers, boxes of frozen meals and essential items for my “chemo bag” as proactive measures. Without the posse, this road would be darker and lonelier.

For my husband Steven, who has a bird’s-eye view of not just the road but of my own halting steps along the way, being a posse leader requires an inner resolve foreshadowed by the very vows we recited back on a warm, December 1983 day here in South Central Texas.

He demonstrates what “in sickness and in health” truly meant that day, after the first flush of giddy romance has surely given way to the un-rosy realities of earning salaries, raising children, ageing (sometimes not-so-gracefully) and coping with a devastating diagnosis.

He has not given in to the inevitable moments of human weakness and doubts. Nope. He gulps another swig of java, points me to the yellow pillbox, then spit-shines any dull spot in God’s armor that I don each morning.

Steven saddles up to join Dr. Leigh and Steven Cooper in rallying the posse for another day’s journey. And we all hit the road.

 
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