How Cancer Made My Marriage Better

and how you can improve your marriage as well.

How Cancer Made My Marriage Better

The phone rang in my office.  “Hi, Dr. Hattabaugh, this is Dr. Smith, your wife wanted me to call you.  It’s cancer.”

Cancer Made My Marriage Better

While we knew the lab results might tell us this, you are never quite ready for it.  No marriage is ever fully ready for this shot to the gut I felt when I found that out.  I was at a new job, and like most bad news I had trouble believing it.  But here is the weird thing – Cancer made my marriage better.

Cancer was the BEST thing that has ever happened to my marriage.

That sounds strange, but let me fill you in.  You have two basic choices when you partner is diagnosed with a serious health issue.  You can run or you can fight.  I am going to write another post at some point about the people who run.  It happens far too often.  I chose to fight.  It’s the best and proudest part of who I am as a husband.

I never missed a doctor’s appointment.  I once had a doctor throw the chart at me and say in exasperation – “You know more about this cancer than I do!”  (I’m REALLY proud of that one!)

You see when I came along side my wife and fought her cancer battle with her it changed both of us.  We learned to trust more.  We learned to appreciate each other more.  We stopped taking our relationship for granted and discovered an even deeper level of intimacy.

I want to help you learn a few lessons we learned during the almost 6 years of treatment that you can use if you are going through this, or even better, learn without going through it.

There are 3 reasons cancer made my marriage better.

Cancer Made My Marriage BetterReason #1 – Cancer gave me something to fight.

I think we both were surprised by our reaction to cancer.  My wife wanted it out. Gone. Within a week of her diagnosis, surgery removed the tumor.  We had to wait a while for the results of the tumor biopsy, but it was out.  I was furiously researching everything I could learn.

I asked the doctor about a new DNA test that would determine what kind of “fuel” the tumor worked on.  My wife was the first patient in our state to have this test run.  Her results were what we were praying for.  Because her cancer was estrogen driven, she didn’t need chemo.

I had fought for that test.  I had asked the doctor about it.  Without asking the protocol would have been to do radiation and chemo.  The test is now standard for all breast cancer patients that are in the same stage as my wife.  Now six years cancer free, she does not have to deal with the lifetime effects chemo can cause.  I’m glad I had a fight!

People are a selfish bunch.  We tend to see what is better than we have.  We tend to judge our partner on their flaws and our own insecurities.  I wrote about fair fighting in a post here,  but fighting for cancer made me a champion to my wife. Cancer made my marriage better by giving me something to fight for that made her feel protected and loved.

Reason #2 – Cancer made us a team.Cancer Made My Marriage Better

A couple weeks into the process, my wife and I made a deal.  She asked me to take care of the medical side and information side of her cancer and treatment.  She didn’t want to think about the details. She wanted me to listen to the doctors so she could process it later. The information seemed like a fog to her.  Overwhelming and full of choices.  She wanted a path to healing and I could manage the information and get the path lighted and straight.  It was the right thing for me.

She would focus on the treatments themselves and physically prepare herself for each event and ultimately each day.  She decided to continue working to keep her focus away from cancer itself. Not ignore it, but keep from letting it consume her thoughts and worries.  She needed normal in her day.  Work and home life gave her that. Even during the months of radiation every day (M-F), it seemed like most of life went back to normal.  It was the right thing for her.

We needed each other to accomplish this life.  We made a great team.

Reason #3 – Cancer gave me empathy.Cancer Made My Marriage Better

Empathy is the ability to understand others because you have experienced something similar.  I have to admit, my life has been rather easy compared to many.  I had a great childhood.  I have experienced very little trauma and pain.  Cancer introduced me to understanding others and helped me love people unconditionally.
The first weeks of diagnosis and surgeries were very fast and very emotionally tough.  I was too busy making plans and learning about everything I could to fully engage what was going on inside myself.  I was too busy being my wife’s rock, I didn’t see how emotionally troubled I had become.
My wife and I went to see the movie Fireproof  about six weeks in.  If you haven’t seen this movie, it is definitely on my must-see list for marriages.
Anyway, at the end of the movie, I lost it.  I fell apart.  I was sobbing uncontrollably.  I had NEVER done that before (or since).  My wife escorted me to the car after the theater had cleared and kept asking me what was wrong.  I couldn’t choke it out until we had sat in the car for quite a while.  Eventually, I could.
I said “I wish I could have this cancer.  I wish I could fix it.  I have been taking care of everything for 20 years and here is something I can’t take care of.”

It was cathartic.  My wife just kept saying, “It’s OK, It’s OK, It’s OK.”  It transformed us.  I got it.  She got it.  We were in this together.  I not only felt her pain and fear, I lived her pain and fear. She got to laugh at her manly husband crying.  It was a win/win. 🙂

Now, I am not trying to say that what I did was anything like actually having cancer.  It’s not.  But, I know we went through this together, and I now have much better empathy for her and her daily struggles.  Those of you who have had cancer know the terror of going in for your next appointment.  It never fully goes away.  Even over 6 years later any pain or issue has to be processed as “What if the cancer is back?”  I’m sure we will live the rest of our lives with that in the shadows.
On a side note, your empathy towards people dealing with cancer really matters.  Most cancer survivors I know have a general issue with people who find out they have it.  If you’ve had it, you usually understand it is out of a good heart, but it is frustrating. It is:

Our battle is our own. Your advice on treatment and what someone you knew did is NOT usually helpful.  It is discouraging and confusing.  It’s great that your friend/neighbor/great-aunt did this treatment or avoided that treatment, but we are dealing with OUR cancer.  So please, tell us you will pray for us, tell us you are concerned about us but don’t tell us how to treat our cancer.  It is uniquely ours to treat.  If we ask you, then we want to know.

I have known many people with similar cancer to my wife.  Some did hardly any medical treatment.  Some went to medical extremes I would never go.  All got NO advice from me unless they asked for it.  My empathy for their situation is too great.  I know their pain.

So, while I would never wish cancer on anyone and would gladly erase that chapter from our lives, I can samaking relationships great!y: Cancer made my marriage better.  I am thankful we are done with that chapter.  I pray you will be done with yours soon.  I will give you an online “hug” and tell you to hang on!  Cancer is not easy or fun, but it can shape your relationship into something even better than you have.  You have to be willing to sacrifice and work together.  I pray you find joy and grace together if you are on this road.  Feel free to message me if you would like any support.

So get out there and-

Make YOUR Relationships GREAT!

Dr. Mike


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