Cancer is not a “gift” for me. I didn’t want to have my breasts amputated, my travel plans upended, my finances shrunk from biopsies, surgery, cancer drugs. And I sure as hell didn’t want my husband to experience anguish over my pain.
I’ve heard some patients say cancer is a “gift” to them because it made them appreciate life more. Well, I was grateful for life long before I had a pathology report that found “malignancy.”
No, my breast cancer wasn’t a gift for me — but Tedly is. My husband’s unconditional, unflappable, unlimited love is a special, spiritual gift.
It feels like this kind of love is a rarity in this world, and I fear the beauty of it won’t be known to some people who haven’t experienced it unless I share it.
Tedly did everything possible to make me comfortable for optimal healing after my bilateral mastectomy. I had flowers nearby, every meal was prepared, my pillows were fluffed, my feet and legs rubbed. He wouldn’t let me help with any chores – no dishes or laundry or grocery shopping. “Keep convalescing,” he would say, about a dozen times each day during the four weeks since the surgery.
The idea was to take advantage of our good fortune of early retirement to get me healed up as thoroughly as possible so we could get back to the business of happily traveling along, country to country, by bus or train or plane. I don’t know how American women with double mastectomies go back to work after two weeks – let alone sometimes while they still have drains!
We’ve had a few short public outings since my surgery. A park picnic, church service, doctor appointments, short walks, a couple of cafe visits. I also had a little time alone out in the world with my new breastless body. But I’m still sore and my chest skin is hyper sensitive, and my swelling gets a little worse when it’s really hot and humid (like in this current European heat wave), so I haven’t stayed out more than a few hours at a time.
I’ve told Tedly to get out and enjoy himself: a beer in the park, the Croatian soccer team parade (chaotic party crowds weren’t a good idea for me one week post-surgery), a bike ride around town, time at a bar he likes near the main square, Catholic mass, whatever. Only one time in a month was the man gone more than four hours.
It’s vital care givers give themselves care. The fine lines around Tedly’s eyes have grown a bit deeper over the past month. I see stress etched into his face, and I hate that about this cursed cancer more than anything it does to me.
Tedly’s physical acts of care that I described are what you might think of with the traditional marriage vow of “in sickness and in health.” You might imagine him moving a chair onto the balcony so I can read outside, or cleaning the kitchen. But there were deeper, tender, soulful connections on intimate levels introduced to me during this cancer emergency. I will share a few examples.
The day of my surgery, Tedly put his head on my chest and sobbed. He kissed my breasts and said he would always kiss me there, even with only scars. The feel of his breath and tears on my body was an experience so intense, somehow I physically felt these sensations in my soul. He reached a part of me in those moments I did not know existed.
During a post-surgery doctor visit, I cried out in pain when bandages were removed because my skin was hyper-sensitive. My husband, sitting across the room, cried out in distress as he witnessed my pain. It was as if we were connected – as if his soul felt my physical pain.
In times of comfort, Tedly hugs me from the back because pressing against each other facing front isn’t possible yet. He’ll push his body into my backside with his arms lowered around my waist, as he hunches down to rest his chin on my shoulder. Forced into a somewhat submissive position, I feel empowered. His hugs tell me he’s got my back — that he’s protecting and nurturing me at a time in my life when I need that.
His selfless love attracts my soul at a deeper level now. Previous to the cancer diagnosis, I didn’t think that was possible after so many years spent together (3-plus married, 17 total together on and off).
Tedly’s selfless type of love is the ultimate light on Earth. Its power deepens my faith in the divine.
I wish every one could experience this soulful, wonderful love, which is a special gift I have to come to appreciate more and understand a little bit better through the damned curse of cancer.