It’s the day we celebrate the one we love. How that love is shaped depends on the couple. Relationships have a different meaning for cancer survivors. Cancer can make a relationship stronger or tear it apart.
I remember a number of phone calls with a guy in the Boston area, whose wife was going through Hodgkin’s lymphoma, complete with high dose chemo and an autologous stem cell transplant at Dana Farber in Boston (I dealt with similar treatment at the Yale Cancer Center in Connecticut for the same disease). They had one, maybe two kids (I have a daughter). He and his wife were lawyers (as I was at the time), and they lived in the same town that my brother did, so we had a lot in common.
Some time passed, he was difficult to reach, and when I finally got him on the phone, he told me he and his wife were divorcing.
At a previous job, I spoke with a man who said he and his wife lived a loveless relationship for many years when he was diagnosed with cancer. He acknowledged without her help, he wouldn’t have made it through the ordeal, but it didn’t help their relationship. He told me dealing with cancer made him realize how short his life could be, and he didn’t want to live the rest of it in a relationship without love. He wanted a divorce, and was willing to give his wife just about anything she wanted, so he could get on with his life.
At Gilda’s Club Delaware Valley I met a young couple, in their 20’s. He had gone through Hell and back due to cancer and treatment. Whether it would come back and kill him was unknown, but if it didn’t, the treatment was going to leave him debilitated for the rest of his life. Time went on, and I later learned his wife was having a tough time dealing with the fact the man she promised to spend her life with, through sickness and in health, was going to be sick for the rest of his life, and not see much health. I guess she figured she hadn’t really signed up for that, and was going her own way.
Of course, cancer isn’t always a death blow to relationships. Another friend told me her first husband (she’s on number three) died of lymphoma while holding her in his arms. He was 29 at the time. She said they loved to go scuba diving, and when they learned no cure would be coming, they did as much scuba diving as they could manage while he was still strong enough.
My sister-in-law Beth stood by my brother, Bart, as he fought, and eventually lost, his battle with cancer. As time passed, she tended to him more and more, and slowly became a single parent to three boys as Bart weakened. We couldn’t have asked more from Beth, in time, energy or love she spent on my brother.
During my battle, my wife Bobbie kept on working, cared for our daughter, cared for me, through initial treatment, two relapses, two transplants, good news and bad. She put up with so much, and kept on plugging, kept on loving. It’s a debt I hope I never have to repay, but I will, if I have to.