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How has cancer affected your relationship?

Posted Sep 28 2012 3:09pm
September 28, 2012 - Posted by tamilb

Mike and me at our niece Allysa's wedding

Provocative question, huh? Mike and I had the opportunity to ponder this and other questions when we were interviewed last night by a very poised and intelligent graduate student from the Illinois Institute of Technology. Aashika and her classmates are doing a class project studying  self-perception and sexual identity after going through treatment for breast cancer. It was a great opportunity to help them, but also helped us solidify how we feel about the subject.

One takeaway for me: I am very lucky to have such a great husband. We both know women whose husbands left their wives or drowned their sorrows in alcohol/drugs after their diagnosis. To be sure, it’s tough for spouses to adjust to the many changes that happen after your loved one has cancer. It can make or break a relationship. There was even a recent study showing how cancer and other major illnesses increases the chance of divorce (in particular men leaving their wives). In our case, it has made it stronger. But it’s certainly different.

A lot of her questions related to  self-image after bodily changes from cancer. I had a lumpectomy rather than a mastectomy, so I felt like I didn’t have as rough a time as many other survivors. Yet after some probing, I admitted that I still have issues. After all the trouble they have caused, it’s still difficult to see my breasts as sexual. I’ve been cut on, poked, prodded, scanned and suffered a huge slap of mortality because of them. I love the T-shirt that says, “Of course they’re fake; my real ones were trying to kill me!” Sometimes that’s how I feel about my very real breasts.

Also going through a hysterectomy (to slow the onslaught of estrogen feeding the cancer) and having tumors in my peritoneal cavity have caused a whole set of new problems. It makes me wonder if I still have a libido. I worry about sex being painful – not exactly a turn-on. I found myself tearing up after seeing a local production of the Vagina Monologues. I felt like I’ve lost a part of who I am.

I know, this sounds a little depressing, but there is an upside. Cancer has created a bond between Mike and me that is stronger than any of these challenges. My husband still thinks I’m beautiful, even if I don’t feel like it sometimes. And our bond goes beyond physical boundaries. We are 100 percent partners in this, and I absolutely don’t know what I’d do without him. I do believe I’m doing so well, in part, because of his unwavering support.

Our relationship isn’t perfect; nobody can say that. I can say that I’m absolutely blessed to have someone so loyal and loving. He didn’t get what he bargained for when he married me. He definitely is living up to the “in sickness and in health part.” I think one of the things that keeps us strong is that we get support from others. We take care of ourselves, so we don’t have to lean on each other too heavily. Cancer has taught us that each day is important, so we can let go of some of the stupid things that can cause resentments. Do we still get on each other’s nerves sometimes? Of course. Cancer adds stress to any relationship. But it has also increased our level of respect for each other.

They say God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. I believe God brought Mike and my daughter Chrissy into my life so I would have unconditional love despite the challenges of cancer.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about your relationships (marital and other types). How has cancer affected yours?

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