But, I’m getting married in a month. A month. The venue has been booked for ages and the invitations are being sent out.
Who gets diagnosed with cancer a month before their wedding?
I guess I do.
The universe is playing some twisted joke on me.
September 19, 2014
There is never a good time for a cancer diagnosis. But what happens when that diagnosis comes a month before your wedding? Most of your decision-making energy is going into finalizing travel itineraries, wedding favours, the dress, the flowers and a bunch of other details and then, your energy is forced to shift. Suddenly, the decisions are about surgery dates, hospitals, medication, telling people and not breaking down. It is a conscious decision not to break down. Until I do.
One of the first decisions that needed to be made was whether to postpone the wedding. My then fiance was the first person to ask me if I wanted to postpone the wedding and get the surgery done first. There are three main and somewhat selfish reasons I chose not to postpone the wedding.
- One, I wasn’t overly keen to get my neck cut open as soon as possible.
- Two, I knew that when I went through surgery and recovery, I wanted him to be there with me, pre, during and post. If I needed to have a meltdown in the middle of the night, I wanted him to be there. If we weren’t married, this would be far more complicated and difficult to arrange. We needed to have the Nikkah done – to be religiously married – so that he could be with me through it all.
- Finally, I didn’t want this cancer to change my life. I had to accept that some things were going to have to be postponed. I needed to stop working and take medical leave from my masters program. Anyone who knows me knows I thrive on working and learning and this was a huge setback. The fact that this cancer could just spring a surprise on me and force me to change everything was not okay with me.
The diagnosis brought up questions that I had never anticipated.
My family (rightly so) asked how my fiance was taking the news and what his reaction was. They also asked what my future in-laws reactions were. My friend’s parents were able to ask her a little more bluntly, “Is the guy still around?” You see, a diagnosis such as this could be a legitimate reason to break off an engagement. I use the word ‘legitimate’ very loosely here. I think it’s despicable. If someone is entering into an arranged marriage, the families may have more of an influence on whether the match is still suitable or something the family wants to enter into. Dealing with something like cancer within the first couple months of marriage is not something anyone would want for their child and it may be more prudent to search for another bride (or groom).
Our situation, I would like to think, was different because we were so invested in it. We were going to have what is called a “love marriage”. I usually cringe at the term and avoid using it but this is important for context. To me, “love marriage” implies a certain amount of rebelliousness and disobedience. This is not always true but it still feels like there is a negative association culturally. Ours is a love marriage and perhaps this cancer, this challenge, is the reason I have always felt an arranged marriage would never work for me. This is not to say that arranged marriages wouldn’t work for other people. I hope that we are in a strong enough place to take this on together and it is such a relief that he knows who I am and that we’ve honed our communication strategy. I cannot imagine myself going through this diagnosis and process while getting to know someone.
I voiced a fear to him, “Do you still want to marry me?”
Thankfully, he had no second thoughts. We spoke about culture and what people might think and about extended family and we processed information together. When I broke down, he knew to let me do so. When I was frustrated, he understood to give me my space. Marriage, ironically enough, feels liberating. I can have him by my side in a way that is “halal” to society and the fact that he is accepted as my husband gives me peace of mind. Navigating what we want and what is acceptable within society is always a feat. I know now that he would have been by my side through all this even if he wasn’t my husband. And that makes all the difference.
I feel guilty, because I feel like I robbed him of enjoying our first year of marriage together. He doesn’t deserve to have a bride with cancer. You see, cancer is that strong. It tricks your mind into thinking that that’s all you are.
It was difficult going through the wedding process with this news and knowing that once it was all over, I was coming back to something I really didn’t want. Very close family members knew of the diagnosis but we did not tell everyone. The idea was that on my wedding day, I wanted to be happy. I didn’t want people to feel pity or sympathy and it is no one’s fault but in general, it is difficult to predict how people will respond. I thought about surgery and my thyroid all the time. I looked up youtube videos of the surgery, alternative options and laproscopic versions of the procedure. Every time I put on a necklace, I’d gently touch the lump on my neck and sigh. People would comment about how I have put on weight. As a bride-to-be, that’s a double whammy because we are all conditioned to think that all brides absolutely have to look a certain way. I would think about how earlier in the year, I couldn’t walk without feeling dizzy and just sigh inwardly. I would bite my tongue and then change the topic. Sometimes, people don’t realize the damage words can do and that what they see on the outside can have a painful story behind it.
While I was getting ready for the wedding reception, I told the person doing my makeup that I have thyroid cancer. She couldn’t believe it at first but then quickly realized that is not something a bride would talk about otherwise. I couldn’t talk about cancer with my family on that day and I just needed to verbalize it. I’ve realized that when it isn’t mentioned for a few days, the cancer seems more ominous and scary and vague.
We don’t get to choose when the bad stuff happens. More often than not, the timing will always be bad. But, some good came out of it too – I had absolutely no pre-wedding jitters about who I was marrying.