We have all heard the familiar adage, “Hindsight is 20/20.” Well, looking back at the 2011 breast cancer experience and the impact that it had on my marriage, I can now see how my good intentions toward my husband’s well-being and comfort, may have ultimately distanced him from me emotionally. Before I decided to undergo treatment for breast cancer, my husband and I agreed that he would continue to work throughout my treatment. Looking back, I can say with certainty that neither my husband or I was prepared for the huge change that would take place within our household, family routine, and the toll that it would take on our marital relationship.
The fact that I could not sleep in our bedroom was disheartening to the both of us. The fact that I was not sleeping in the room, meant that we were not having sex either. We chose not to talk about our feelings. Still, we kept silent, knowing that there was nothing either of us could do to change our present reality. Little did we know that this lack of communication would soon prove to be injurious to our relationship.
After the agreement was reached that my husband would continue to work throughout my treatment, I made a PERSONAL DECISION to try to maintain the status quo of our relationship. Meaning, I would try my best to make sure that he was not impacted at all by MY ILLNESS. I wanted our relationship to be as close to normal as possible. I was determined not to allow breast cancer to change me or my marriage. I was ignorant about the effects that breast cancer treatment-diagnosis, surgery, and chemotherapy- would have on my psyche, body and LIBIDO.
In retrospect, I can say with certainty that my PERSONAL DECISION to maintain status quo in my marriage was both STUPID and UNREALISTIC. The reason I say the endeavor was stupid is because it was. I was absolutely stupid and out of my mind to think that my illness would not affect my husband. As husband and wife, we are described in the Bible as being one flesh. The scripture says in Mark 10:6-8, “However, from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become ONE FLESH.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” Naturally what affects me will affect him as well. Breast cancer was not just MY ILLNESS, but OUR ILLNESS.
The reason I say the endeavor was unrealistic is because I changed not only emotionally, but physically also. My body was permanently scarred. Although the surgeon did magnificent work, my left breast looked dramatically different from the right (normal) breast. I had a scar underneath my left arm from the lymph node extraction and dissection and I had a large scar expanding from the left side of my lower abdomen across to the right side. I was tired and fatigued and did not look or feel my best. How on earth could I have possibly shielded my husband from the effects of my having breast cancer? I could not, and as I previously stated, it was stupid to think that I could.
My intention was not to worry him. I did not want him to have to shoulder the responsibility of MY ILLNESS. All I wanted him to be concerned about was work. I did not want him to be stressed out over me. I wanted him to have a good nights rest, eat well, relax and be happy. I never stopped to think that my PERSONAL DECISION to maintain the status quo, would ultimately wreak havoc on our relationship and come close to wrecking our marriage.
In the days following the surgery, my husband and I were very cordial to one another. Our conversation was light and very superficial in nature. I worked hard to keep it that way, when all the while I was feeling like a scared and emotionally fragile little girl inside. Looking back in retrospect, I hid my TRUE FEELINGS from him because I did not want him to see me crack. I did not want him to see me in my weakest, neediest and most vulnerable state. I tried to pretend that everything was good in order not to stress him. Therefore, I chose to cover up my emotions.
Throughout our marriage, I prided myself as being emotionally strong, independent, smart, HEALTHY, attractive and SECURE. Breast cancer had changed who I was. Somewhere the TRUE ME had gotten squashed beneath the fist of the bully that I call CANCER. Like a bully who steals money from his victim, cancer had stolen my self-confidence, independent spirit, emotional security, physical strength, beauty, and part of my identity.
I fought the “bully” in silence. All the while drowning in my own sorrow, in my own fear. I would ask myself with regard to my husband, “Does he find me attractive?” “When will we have sex again? (because at the time I did not desire sex. My libido was practically non-existent).
As the days and weeks dragged along, my husband and I eventually became like two ships on the ocean, passing one another in the night. The small talk we used to engage in, eventually ceased. Our salutations morphed into giving each other a peck on the lips or him giving me a kiss on the forehead. We were merely co-existing.
In reexamining my marital experience with breast cancer in 2011, I would say that the thing that destroyed our marriage was not CANCER. Rather, the thing that wreaked havoc upon my marriage was FEAR, the LACK OF TRANSPARENCY, and the LACK OF COMMUNICATION.
You know how people say, “If I had it to do all over again, I would _ _ _?” Well, sadly, I did have the chance to do it all over again in 2016 when I was diagnosed with a recurrence of breast cancer. At the onset, I decided that I would be TOTALLY OPEN and HONEST with my husband about my feelings during ALL PHASES OF TREATMENT. My husband and I revisited our experience in 2011 and acknowledged how our lack of communication with one another, proved to be harmful to our marriage. After talking about the past, we both agreed that we would not go down the path of non-communication again. Today, our marriage is HEALTHIER AND SOLID because we both chose to be VULNERABLE with one another, and to CHECK-IN frequently with one another just to process the difficulties of this journey.
The Bible asks a very important question as it pertains to the relationship between two people. In Amos 3:3, it simply asks,”Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?”
I wold like to challenge you this week. If you are married or are in a committed relationship with someone, make time to sit down with them and tell them exactly how you are feeling about your illness. Explain your experience to them. Ask them how has the illness affected them? How has it changed the relationship? I know this is difficult because the last thing you may feel like doing is trying to console someone else in your time of emotional need. But trust me when I say that taking time to TALK and not PRETEND will help your marriage/relationship to SURVIVE. Your marriage/relationship does not have to be a casualty in the war to survive breast cancer.
I pray that you will find comfort in the arms of your beloved. I pray that you will have peace. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you care to share or have any questions.
Until next time, Ciao♥