Someone once told me that a cancer diagnosis makes or breaks a marriage. Having survived five months of major surgery and chemotherapy I’m happy to say that mine is still very much intact. There have been moments though, particularly during those long, interminable hours on my local chemo unit, when our rock-solid foundation has developed fissures and flaws.
Cancer is relentless. It’s a test of endurance like no other. Not even a new baby can render you more emotionally and physically exhausted than this. The pressure starts to build from the moment you enter your surgeon’s office after a series of ‘routine tests’. You clock the Macmillan nurse and the medical student lurking in the shadows with a serious look on her face and you know, you just know, that nothing will ever be the same again.
Once the ‘c word’ is mentioned your whole landscape bleeds and distorts. It’s like someone has thrown a glass of water at a painting of your life together. Your body changes beyond recognition. Your hopes and dreams narrow down to a small window of time because looking beyond that is too difficult to comprehend. By the end of treatment you’ll both be battered and bruised and wanting.
But there’s no foil blanket waiting for us, no sweaty photograph taken at the finishing line. Just three to five years of ‘scanxiety’ as we hope and pray for non-recurrence. NED (No Evidence of Disease) is the place to be. It’s the coolest club in town. All of us are gambling on a lock-in until some big, burly bouncer of a tumour throws us back into treatment.
As much as I like to think that I deserve a medal for surviving a four-hour infusion of liquid platinum every three weeks, it’s my husband that deserves the crown, the flowers and the multi-million dollar sponsorship deal. I’ve fallen apart more times than I can count this year. It hasn’t been pretty. Time and time again he’s stuck me back together and held my hand as I’ve dealt with the very worst that chemo has to offer.
Like so many partners of cancer patients he’s the glue that binds me to hope. He’s the voice of reason who refuses to entertain any of the nonsense that I dig up on the Internet at 3am. He’s the face that I see through my tears every single day.
He’ll bring a humour that is sorely needed when my body starts to tire. He’ll smile at my ugly collection of scars because they saved my life. He’ll scoff at the loose hairs in my hairbrush, “wigs are all the rage now anyway.” He’ll reassure me that he loves me even when I can barely love myself.
Post-treatment, we’re stronger than ever. We’re more focused on what’s important. Our fuses are shorter but our laughter freer, yet we’re still just a couple of displaced salmon gasping for breath. Cancer has pressed the fast-forward button on our lives and we’re still playing catch up. I‘ve noticed that we don’t talk about the future anymore. It’s all too uncertain.
This month my husband and I celebrate our ninth wedding anniversary. Over the course of our marriage we’ve travelled the world, had two beautiful children and survived cancer. We’ve survived cancer. It may be my body but it’s the life that we built together that has borne the brunt of my diagnosis, and it will continue to do so until another ‘c word’ is gifted to me.