February 18, 2015
He wakes up early and makes me my usual breakfast, using the utensils set aside for my use only. We will have breakfast together, facing each other but with a good 6 feet between us. I keep reminding myself to keep at least 6ft/2m between us at all times. He gives me an amused look when I temporarily forget this rule and stop myself mid-pounce, altogether too close for radiation purposes. I know he sneaks peeks at me throughout the day to make sure I’m okay and constantly asks me if I need anything, punctuated occasionally by a “Do you want to be alone for a bit?” He refills my water at least 10 times a day and still, after all this time, makes sure I take my pills. These days, he also uses gloves when handling anything I have touched. At night, he sits on a chair in the doorway, talking to me until I fall asleep in our bed. He sleeps on a makeshift bed on our living room floor so he isn’t too far away. What is this, if not love?
“I miss you,” I say, looking across the room.
“I know. I miss you too.”
Someone once remarked that if my partner now does the cooking and cleaning at home, and goes to work, then what is left for Nadha to do? That hurt only a little bit because the truth is that that is a (highly) oversimplified statement on what our life together is at the moment.
Over the years, we have gone through a number of phases in our relationship, each requiring us to adapt and change with each other, based on the directions our individual lives were taking. In a sense, this time in our lives is no different and in other ways, going through cancer together is a completely alien experience. Our experiences over the last 6 months render article headlines like “How to know if you have the right man” and “10 ways to know you have found the one” outright laughable and not worth the link click. Love in a time of cancer cannot and will not be categorized. It refuses to be understood, except by those who know it.
I am not saying that a checklist of things you can do isn’t helpful, because few of us actually know what we’re doing. But, everything with a handful of salt. I’ve realized that the best thing I can do at this time for my partner and loved ones is to be in tune with myself and understand what I am going through. It doesn’t stop there, I have needed to be able to communicate those thoughts and my feelings to them. Distancing them is probably the worst thing I could have done and yet, at times, it is all I have wanted to do. Not taking out my anger and frustration on them is a daily challenge in self-control and patience and love. Sometimes I falter, I am not perfect. But I know I have done my damnedest to be in love and show that love each and every single day for about a year now. At a time when I am allowed to be completely selfish, it has become even more important for me to be thinking of others. Throughout this cancer process, I have pushed my physical and mental limits. I am only now coming to realize the extent of it.
If you can’t be strong together in the worst of times, that’s probably not a solid foundation given that life is probably going to throw challenges your way. Whether a relationship is actually a healthy one is another issue. Granted, a friend pointed out to me that some people are incredibly privileged in that they do not face certain types of hardships at all, all their live long days.
When I think of people who are just getting married, aside from being happy for them, it will take me back to my own time almost exactly 6 months ago. Wedding prep knowing that I had to have surgery immediately after. Breaking down each and every day as I tried to come to terms with my diagnosis. What a roller coaster.
I confuse what appears to be resentment with what is really wishful thinking because I do wish that the time we were able to publicly acknowledge our love wasn’t marred by this cancer. I wish that the first six months of us living together didn’t have to be about doctor’s appointments and my medications. The only nights we have spent apart since have been due to my hospitalizations or treatment-mandated. I thought it would be because I would be working somewhere or he would be staying over at a friend’s place in Brampton. You know, normal life.
For people who have recently got together and are in puppy stage love, I like to reminisce about what that was for us all those years ago. It is a necessary stage and yet then the cynical and jaded person inside me snaps “What do they know about love”. It doesn’t last long, but it is there and I think that is a natural response. As long as I’m not bursting their bubble of happiness, I am allowed to understand that I am hurting and healing.
Despite it all, we find moments to play, moments to laugh and tell jokes and act silly and it those moments strung together that take us through. We talk about history, and religion, and politics and death. We share our thoughts, and really listen while the other is speaking. Through foresight and understanding the need for our own independence, we have our separate work areas. He games while I write. Headphones are paramount. Movie selections result in witty banter and small milestones are celebrated with hoopla and merriment.
We don’t talk about our lives in the past year without the cancer because it is unfathomable. We have honed our communications skills because nothing is presumed about how the other is feeling. If there is anything this blog series has been about, it is this: honesty. Love of a partner, a parent, a sibling, a child, a friend – these relationships are inevitably touched by cancer.
I have read that it actually gets harder for couples after the cancer treatment is over. This is due to a number of factors involving coming off an adrenaline rush, being exhausted, just wanting life to go back to normal or not having the “excuse” of cancer. Tomorrow is my full body scan and then what? I am not ready for whatever comes next – whether that is that the cancer has spread or that the cancer is under control and I can start to refer to it in the past tense.
I do know this – To the best of our abilities, my partner and I will keep each other informed on how we are feeling, we will understand that love is complicated and beautiful and intense and heart-breaking and that every day, we have the choice to be with one another through it all.