“…In sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.” Wedding vows- an exchange which takes place between two people during an integral part of a wedding ceremony. Habitually couples choose to express their vows and pledges of love by going the route of traditional declarations, or perhaps even writing their own, to capture the soul essence of their spirits toward one another. Conversely, when it comes down to the fundamentals of the vows, how well can, “in sickness and in health…” be upheld?
Cancer can add a lot of stress to a marriage. Stress that when echoing the vows, “in sickness and in health…”, you may find yourself asking for the fine print. While standing up in front of your family and friends, it all seems so simple to declare your love for one another; with the notion that god forbid anything should happen to your partner, it would be eons down the road, with a couple of kids in the mix and a lifetime full of memories. For Steve and I, we are just shy of our two-year anniversary. November 12th, 2011 was the day that we exchanged the significant lines, although we opted for our own verbiage when it came time to convey how we felt about each other in the presence of our near and dear. Without having a lifetime full of memories with one another, I often find myself feeling guilty of stripping Steve of what I would consider to be a “normal” marriage.
Clearly, I do not have a crystal ball to divulge what the future holds and even so, I did not have one prior to marrying Steve. I now deliberate that if I had known that just two short years down the line I would be diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, would I or could I have spared Steve of this hurt? Preventatively, there were no measures that I could have taken to know that this would be my preordained future, but I do find myself bidding that I could have foreseen this for Steve’s sake.
Over the course of the last month I have done a plethora of reading on cancer and everything that it affects, including marriage. They say that the two principal strains in a marriage are health and finances. We’ve definitely had our share of financial stress, but certainly didn’t expect health stress to be of concern, at least not until the later chapters of our lives. Throughout my incessant reading and research on cancer, I came across a simple, yet accurate portrayal of how cancer and marriage are wedded together. “Cancer attacks one body, but two hearts.” It became clear that I wasn’t the only one resenting this cancer and the stresses that it had bestowed upon me; it also weighted upon my husband.
Once you have cancer, it becomes quite clear that you don’t have the time, nor the energy for much else. Cancer becomes an all-consuming full time job and managing things such as a marriage, suddenly becomes second precedence. Throughout the last month tensions have certainly been at an all time high between Steve and I. While Steve was busy being my primary caretaker and pumping me up when I was deflated, who was inflating him? Night after night while I was in the hospital, Steve slept on the pullout chair, without much of a grievance. He hasn’t neglected a single appointment and all the while has still managed to maintain working (for the most part). Somehow, it never dawned on me to ask him, “how are you holding up, how is this impacting you?”
The reality is that when you are caring for a partner that has cancer, you unexpectedly take on several roles for this person. Your time rapidly becomes optimized and slumber is a faint memory. Both parties find themselves sacrificing things and the eventful social calendar becomes that of Doctor visits. Cancer not only assaults and occupies your body; it also conquers your sleep, shindig happenings, finances and most of all, your relationship.
Falling through the cracks of the hospital’s social worker’s, Steve and I did not pro-actively get the aid that we needed, before we were crying out for assistance. My saint of a mother-in-law decided to take it upon herself to reach out to the hospital and ensure that we received the help we so desperately required, a remedy to ease the tensions that cancer brought upon our marriage. Mercifully, the call to the hospital had been answered and a social worker apologetically extended herself to us this past weekend. Regrettably informing that Steve and I slipped through the cracks while in the hospital, she stated that typical protocol was that a social worker is supposed to visit the patient while in the hospital. This is to lend options of support groups based on the specified condition. Seeing that Steve and I didn’t receive that follow-up, we were unaware that this form of service and support was available to us, until now that is.
How you survive the cancer diagnosis and overall progress to health is a joint effort. The truth is, there is no way that I could have circumvented Steve having to embark on this journey with me. I was unable to avoid the unavoidable and prevent this for myself, let alone for Steve. Through all of this I realize that I wouldn’t be able to do it without him and that he is meant to be here with me, to care for me and most of all live up to those promises within our vows, “in sickness and in health…”
We found ourselves reaching out for help before we absolutely and undoubtedly needed it. In an effort to maintain some form of normalcy, we have decided to dedicate one night a week to us, whether it is dinner, a movie or just a walk to the park. Regardless, just one night where we don’t have to discuss cancer and we can be us. Outside of that, we will also dedicate evenings to support groups, perhaps one specific to spouses of cancer patients, one for couples battling cancer and then one for me specifically so I may relate to others with cancer. The key is, we must communicate, I must ask my husband how he is doing and raise him up when he is feeling downhearted and most of all we must relieve ourselves to do customary things.
The wedding vows that took place on November 12, 2011 now mean so much more to the both of us. I realize that there is no fine print to marriage; it is what you make it and when Steve pledged those meaningful words, he meant it. “…For better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.” And for that, I am eternally grateful.
***If you or someone you know is in need of assistance via a Cancer Support Group, please visit: www.cancer.org***