Marjorie, an H4TG member and Ms. May in A Calendar to Live By 2021, shares some thoughts on the one thing she might actually have to be thankful for when it comes to her cancer journey.
I don’t like to credit cancer with anything. At all. I don’t like knowing it was helpful to me in some way. I’d prefer to think of it as it was: an unfair, unbelievably hard, and truly awful experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. And it was that, no question. It was also how I learned to be vulnerable and fall in love again.
I was diagnosed with HER-2 positive, stage 2B invasive ductal carcinoma at the end of October 2018. A month earlier my primary care physician had found a lump in my right breast. I was supposed to go for my first mammogram after my physical anyway, and my doctor added an ultrasound to the order. I told the ridiculously nice man I was seeing at the time, Dave, about the lump and the mammogram/ ultrasound appointment. He and I could both feel the lump, and we both worried about it, but we mostly did it separately. We had been dating only a few months at that point. He was so different than just about anyone I had dated. He was a truly kind and compassionate man, and I was coming to care for him the way he was coming to care for me.
During the ultrasound the radiologist asked if I could stick around for a biopsy. I got home after two mammograms, one ultrasound, and three biopsies. Dave spent his lunchtime with me and just held me. I was diagnosed a week later. I had no idea exactly how or how much my life was about change, but I knew it wouldn’t be good. I gave Dave every out I could. I told him that he was under absolutely no obligation to stick around, that I would totally understand if he bailed, no hard feelings. Honestly, if the roles had been reversed, I don’t know what I would’ve done. But he thought about it and decided he’d rather have me in his life than not, in whatever form that may be. I was astonished, and I told him if we was going to do this with me he had to stick it out. Leave now or leave at the end. No leaving in the middle. He was resolutely game.
Chemo was almost more than I could bear. I ended up in the hospital for palliative care for a few days and in the ER once. He was there every step of the way. I gave him a key to my place early during chemo so he could let himself in and out. We had no idea how sick I would be, and I think his caregiving role was much more intense than either of us thought it would be. But he stuck around. He says he'd do it again in heartbeat, even knowing what he knows now. He told me he loved me after a chemo infusion on New Year’s Eve.
We made it through five rounds of chemo, a mastectomy and reconstruction, and 24 rounds of radiation. He took care of me, sometimes to the detriment of his health and sleep, throughout it all. I'm not great at trusting people, but I had to trust him. I had to be vulnerable in front of him because I was just so so sick. I now know that the two of us can get through anything because we've made it through this.
And then one day, over fancy pizza at a neighborhood restaurant, while I was still healing from the radiation, I blurted out that I couldn’t imagine my life without him. He was surprised… and then said he felt the same way.
We got engaged over Labor Day weekend, 2019. I had my last surgery the next month. We were planning a May 2020 wedding. By March of that year, it was clear we wouldn’t be able to have the celebration we wanted in May. We got married anyway, in our living room, over Zoom. Our officiant (and friend) and immediate family all tuned in from their computers. It was as good as it could be, but it was not the wedding we wanted. We were ready to make a commitment to each other as planned, so we did. We celebrated our first anniversary last month.
I am thrilled to be married to Dave. He is such a warm, wonderful, and weird man, and I’m grateful that cancer showed me that. I’m not happy about being grateful to cancer, but I am.
We’re moving ahead with our wedding celebration – finally! – in September. We will celebrate our marriage, my cancer-free status, and be with our friends and family. A little late (we’ve rescheduled 3 times) and a little different than we originally planned. But it’s been a hell of a three years, and we deserve to party. Thanks, cancer?