Cancer Either Makes or Breaks a Marriage

I think one of the first things my oncologist said to us at my very first appointment was, “Cancer either makes or breaks a marriage.”

In my head I think I sat straight up and felt like a deer in headlights. I don't even think I really heard anything else he said because my mind was still wrapped around the idea that someone in that room may have just told my fortune. Or seen my secret.

“How can he tell? Is it obvious? Why would he say something like that?"

That was over 5 years ago. And when I think back, I believe he did know because he could see. I’m sure he’d sat in that room and given the Intro to Chemo and Cancer talk to countless couples. He was surely a good study in human behavior - at least good enough to see the 2 feet of space that sat between Kyle and myself. I’m sure that void spoke volumes to him about the state of our relationship in this time of crisis.

My guess is couples are physically close in times like that. When you are told you may be dying, you naturally draw close. The emotional, mental, and physical intimacy required of a partnership during the worst possible moment is probably a clear indication of the "for better or worse part" of that vow.

And yet there I sat in this sterile little room with 2 feet of emptiness between me and the one person to whom I should be clinging.

As we left that first meeting, I retreated into my many thoughts and the hopeful idea that this, this fucking cancer, could finally be the catalyst that brings my marriage the connection, the chemistry, and the intimacy that I knew a relationship should have. I looked at Kyle and knew he was the right man for this situation and all the nasty, horrible things that would follow. I knew he would take care of me till the end, and I resigned to the the fate of my marriage - that death would probably do us part a lot soon than one anticipates.

Only death never came, and I kept living. And I lived very much as an outsider to my own marriage. Cancer hadn't brought the "ah-ha" Oprah moment I thought it might. It hadn't been the catalyst to finally "falling in love" I had hoped for, but turned out to be the one I needed to realize life is far too short to be so unhappy.

I had a great man who deserved the world, and yet I had no desire to give it to him. I knew it would be a disservice to keep him in a relationship that wasn’t working. He deserved to be truly happy with someone, and not spend the rest of our lives going through the motions because it was expected of us.

It has been well over 3 years, and outside of close friends and family we’ve never been very public about the end of our marriage. As much as I share about the embarrassing details of my life, I’m equally guarded about the personal ones. For a long time that was to protect those who didn’t know and we still needed to tell. In part it was to respect anyone who may be hurt by this entire situation. The idea of disappointing so many people kept me stagnant for too long, and I've long since let that go enough to write about it.

It was Kyle who finally told me to stop worrying about the disappointment and what other people thought. Despite the end of our marriage, our relationship as friends never ended. I’d like to believe that we find great support and encouragement in each other, and can both readily admit that we are two people who didn’t really belong together. And despite that, we still have these two amazing kids we work to raise together in the most peaceful and accepting environment we can create. I'd like to think that we are far better off as friends than we ever were as spouses.

I've been wanting and needing to write about this, but every time I'd try and tackle it, it would all come out wrong. I've let a draft of this blog sit for well over a year as I've edited and rewritten it - thinking it would be too harsh or too truthful. But Kyle would always tell me to not fear the truth, for it is my raw honesty that people do appreciate. And at this point, nothing I could say would hurt his feelings.

The longer and farther I travel into the cancer world, the more people I talk to in the midst of their own marital crisis. These are people putting everything they have into fighting for their life, with nothing left over at the end of the day for anyone else. These are caregivers who go from being a partner and lover, to a nurse and parent. These are marriages hanging by a string, and people so exhausted by cancer that they don't even care to maintain what's left of a strained relationship. These are cracks and fractures magnified by the pressure of disease and the exhaustion it brings to every corner of life.

Cancer has left me with little tolerance for misery, and choosing to end my own marriage is probably the greatest illustration of this. It's not just cancer, but crisis that makes or breaks any type of relationship. And in my case, it was hard to break something that wasn't even whole in my mind and heart from the start.

I think a lot of people in and out of a crisis like cancer are struggling, be it a relationship, a job, or just life. And I can't stress enough how short life is. I want to get to the end of it with as little regret as possible, and walking away from my marriage was the first step in that direction. I'm still a moderately hopeless romantic who holds on to her ideals, albeit with the proper pair of spectacles on this time. 

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