There is no perfect time to be diagnosed with cancer. Timing is critical in treating cancer. I learned all about the reality of these two sentences upon my diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma back in 1988.
Six months following my diagnosis, I was supposed to get married. But because Hodgkin’s carried a pretty good cure rate even back in the 1980’s, the sooner I began my treatment, the better likelihood of success. But I did not want my treatments to interfere with the big day for me and my fiancé (wife #1). Imagine that, I was worried about how I would look, or interference in the plans for the rest of my life, not keeping focused that there might not be a life, if I wait too long to begin treatment.
But as the picture suggests, once diagnosed, time seems to spiral out of control. From my diagnosis, I had to tell someone very important in my immediate life, before even my family. But before that, as I drove to have this dreaded conversation, I passed by my employer. The light was still on in the owner’s office, and so, not knowing how I was even going to go into the conversation with my fiancé, I pulled into the parking lot, and went inside the building.
Jeff, as usual, was working late. He was unaware that I had this particular appointment, or that anything was wrong. I sat down opposite him, and he could tell that something quite serious was on my mind.
“Jeff, I have cancer.”
I would guess that a minute had passed by, as neither of us knew what to say to each other. And then a tear fell from his right eye, followed by another from the left eye. That was not what I had intended to cause by my detour. But from that moment, and the conversation that followed, it set the pace, and the standard for how I was going to fight.
Jeff assured me, that he was going to contact our benefits manager in the morning, and immediately upgrade not just my coverage, but coverage for everyone in the company. I was the first person who worked for Jeff, that was diagnosed with cancer, and he felt responsible to “make sure” that I got “the best care that insurance could provide.”
That conversation would give me the missing direction I needed to fill, to have a conversation with a woman I was supposed to marry in just six months.
When I got to Judy’s parent’s house, I found them all waiting for my arrival as they were aware of my doctor appointment, and the fact that I got to their house 3 hours late, something was definitely up. I asked Judy to come to the front room of the house, away from her parents. This was a conversation that was strictly between the two of us.
“Judy, I have cancer.” I did not beat around the bush, and just like Jeff’s reaction, only a lot quicker, tears came, a lot of tears. I immediately hugged her, and allowed her to cry herself out, until she was able to have a conversation with me. And almost as difficult as telling her I had cancer, there was a very important issue that had to be discussed as well.
When diagnosed, cancer changes everything. Anything you have going on in your life, takes a back seat in the majority of situations. And between two who are not just boyfriend and girlfriend, but engaged, this was going to an extremely difficult situation to discuss. It may sound harsh, but unless you are the patient themselves, you have no commitment to the process. You are free to walk away. Sure, there is a stigma about being a bad person for not sticking around someone in a dire time of need, but the reality is this, as much as a cancer patient is not prepared to go through this journey emotionally or physically, neither is a significant other.
I know plenty of people who have gone through their entire cancer journey from beginning, to survival, even decades later, and still remain as much in love as the day they met. But I also know so many, whose relationships crumbled under the pressures and fears that cancer brings. Cancer is inconvenient as a patient no longer has control of their lives, to be able to make appointments, take time to recover from treatments, and so on. Cancer for the unintended caregiver, can actually become an imposition, “did not sign up for this when we started dating” or, there may even be other reasons why someone would have a difficult time dealing with a cancer diagnosis of a loved one.
One thing is certain, everything changes from the moment you are told, “you have cancer.”
And so, as Judy settled down, I had the following conversation with her. I told her that things were not going to go as we planned. There may even be a chance that I might not beat the cancer. But any idea of what we thought we were going to have, was not going to be. I offered her a chance to back out of the engagement for that reason, with no hard feelings. I did not believe that I would be able to give her the life that she had probably dreamed of. We could part as friends and I would not hold it against her.
We made the decision we would stay together, and proceed with our wedding as scheduled. I went through radiation therapy first, only to relapse right away following the wedding, having to go through chemotherapy. But as someone who is not going through a cancer battle, preparing to get married, share the rest of your life with someone, is difficult enough without a major distraction of cancer.
I will go into the relationship in another post, as cancer would remain a part of my life even after treatment, but ten years later, we would be divorced. But I am just one situation. There are so many other relationships that I have seen over the decades, witnessing what cancer could not take away. They are amazing couples, and now, that their cancer battles are complete, have returned to their daily lives, continuing to learn about each other, just as they were before the diagnosis. Personally, I see a lot of great things for those couples. Amazing and inspirational to so many.