Naked and ashamed, I just want to hide. I want to be alone. I don’t want what he wants. I don’t even know who I am anymore.
I lay there hoping this time will be different. This time, I will be more into him. Maybe it won’t hurt, or I won’t bleed. Maybe cancer won’t have the final say.
Quickly, I learn cancer continues to steal the life inside of me and the joy of our marriage. Somehow, he still hasn’t come to terms with cancer dictating what happens in the bedroom, or maybe he’s just more hopeful than me.
Three chapters of chemotherapy, the one more grueling than the next—Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, you didn’t rest in one spot but all over. Birth control, ovary preservation, early menopause, stem cell transplant, mitigating infection, and two menstrual cycles in thirteen months are all green lights go for sex. But not so much because he doesn’t understand or he refuses to accept.
I don’t blame him. Cancer steals careers, hobbies, vacations, relationships, friendships, peace, our kids’ youth, dreams, schedules, and livelihood. Why wouldn’t it steal my marriage? Why wouldn’t it steal sex, the lifeline to my marriage? Of course, the lack of intimacy would suffocate my husband. Cancer suffocates. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. Cancer goes after all the things.
I am unwillingly dragged into the constant reminders of hair loss, weight gain, weight loss, a central line, a PICC line, port scars bruised along my flattened chest, and biopsy scars stamped across my back. The joy of always having smooth skin without shaving is no match to the ongoing physical changes that scream, there is no way this is my body. I quickly dress after a shower to avoid glimpses of my cancer wounds before the mirror defogs. Furthermore, feeling intimate quickly becomes a thing of the past.
I am struggling to identify with intimacy in my marriage. I’ve lost connection with my husband and don’t find him attractive anymore. When will this agony end? Could this even get better after treatment?
Unfortunately, and as one could easily predict, what’s not happening in the bedroom can’t stay in the bedroom. Now, our marriage is on the rocks. Wreaking havoc, communication fails, cancer seeping into date night, finances, work schedules, family time, and the day-to-day, tired and crabby, I nestle in delegating tasks to the kids and keeping a tidy home.
Attempting to honor my husband’s needs, I oblige to scheduled sex. For some reason, those tend to be the nights I randomly fall ill from treatment. The anticipatory anxiety I experience upon treatment or doctors’ appointments matches the fear I face in disappointing my husband.
How long will he be patient with me? Has he already ventured onto someone new, someone less broken by cancer? Am I single-handedly ruining my marriage?
Of all the things cancer cripples, my marriage being on the chopping block submittingly awaits its blow. Hi, cancer. Goodbye, marriage of ten years. Seems like an oxymoron to go through the most grueling season of your life to only lose the partner I thought was mine for all my life. But just maybe, I am not alone. When cancer hits, relationships either become stronger, or they become weaker.
Cancer doesn’t only steal life but divides the love of my life and me. Goodbye, physical intimacy. Goodbye, emotional intimacy. Cancer doesn’t discriminate.
If cancer can steal, so can I. I can take back what has been taken away from me. Surely, it may look completely different than life before cancer. People fade, relationships change, and somehow, I am finding exactly what I need in my life.
And luckily, cancer has only pushed him as far away as the couch in the basement, where he spent only three nights. Standing by my side, sex, or no sex, even if I am just starting to find my new footing and dance a new dance, my husband patiently awaits his cancer-free bride. Cancer doesn’t have the final say.