When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, Steve and I had been married for 10 years and 2 months. We had already weathered a few storms together, including job loss, two miscarriages and the deaths of my father and both of my grandmothers, as well as his grandfather. We knew life could hand out downs, as well as ups because we had experienced them first hand. I think that knowledge alone sets the stage for redefining love.
Before cancer, our challenges had brought us together. Though difficult, we were able to face them, hand in hand, as equals. Both of us bringing everything we had to offer in order to move through the struggle.
With cancer, it was different. It’s hard for me to explain how, but I suddenly felt the balance shift. We were no longer facing the challenge as equals, even though we were both effected greatly by the news. It was hard. Somedays thoughts of cancer and treatment brought us closer together, other times it was harder to connect. Fear filled our hearts. While one of us feared losing the other, one of us feared leaving everything behind.
It’s hard to grasp what these feelings are like if you’ve not lived them. I would often tell others that I felt like the center point and Steve was just right of me. Physically, it was my body that was going through the surgeries, the chemotherapy and the side effects. I received so much support and tender care from those around me. But Steve was just right outside the center point. Not far enough away that he could express love and concern and then finish out his day to day. And not close enough that he was physically the one experiencing the effects of cancer. But he was there in the between space. The Head Caregiver, for lack of a better name.
We moved through treatment at a snail’s pace and none of it was easy. Not only does treatment seem to go on and on forever, but living each day of it is a harrowing journey. The emotional ups and downs are deep and wide. Over time, we found our way – we began redefining love again. We made room for our different experiences. We found value in the distance between them and strength in overlap.
As I’m writing, I am reminded of something I read soon after I was diagnosed with cancer. It was from a memoir by Ashley Mae Hoiland,
The heart does not know what it can hold until it is given the thing it must carry. I did not know I would love my children, or the ocean, or the purple flowers that bloom in our front yard tree, until they showed up for me, until I was asked to stoop down and take a piece of them into my heart. I imagine it is the same with things that are hard; I cannot dictate beforehand the ways they will contract and expand my universe until they show up at my front door unexpected. And then I will know they have traveled a long way to get here, that they have made plans to be here for this part of the journey, and that I must let them in”A New Constellation
Throughout cancer, and the 4 years since, I am still learning what my heart can hold. I have realized that life is full of opportunities to grow in love. As long as we continue to show up, we will be able to find meaning and peace in the new paths set before us. If we can learn to allow space for each other, we can continue on together and that is one of the things that I cherish most about life with Steve. For that, I am forever grateful.