God gave me Mike as a freshman in high school. We never imagined we'd face a cancer and marriage breakdown years later.
We met through our friend Erin. We became best friends first. I didn’t “like like” him until a few years later. I was 16 going on 17. We eased into dating just a few months before I was diagnosed with colon cancer.
Mike was the first person I called after I got the news. He was the first person I saw down the hospital hallway after surgery. Outside of a few short-lived breakups in college, we’ve been together ever since. We tied the knot and got married 5 years after dating. We’ve had many firsts together. I love our love story.
Our first years of marriage were so fun. We were living the dream. We took trips, created traditions, went shopping and had lots of friends. We thought when we said “I do,” we’d naïvely escape the troubles marriage can bring. We'd already made it through "in sickness," what more could happen? After a few years in, we learned. Surviving marriage is hard.
Year 7 of marriage is hard
We'd heard that around year 7, marriage gets hard. The 7-Year Itch some people say. And while we did experience some of what most couples face during years 7-8 of marriage, we'd had another hurtle come our way: My second cancer.
A few years prior, I'd faced colon cancer for a second time. The lovestruck high school sweethearts weren't so in infatuated with one another anymore. Fighting cancer together as a married couple in our 20s turned out to be very different than fighting cancer in our teens. We weren't as invincible as we thought.
Plus, we had the normal stuff of what makes marriage hard: job changes/layoffs, church community issues and parenting.
Coping and breakdown in communication
We formed a great coping strategy: Disconnect. Avoid. Stay busy. Pretend.
For awhile we were fine. Not awesome, but not horrible. Not in love, but not fueled with disdain. But fine. Then one day, we were not fine. As a couple that hadn’t really fought, we fought. As a couple that hadn’t really cried, we cried.
We pulled away from one another. We didn't put divorce on the table in our conversations, but it was obvious neither one of us were super happy.
Finally, one day, we started getting really honest with one another. I can't really explain why it was on this particular day, but we started talking and the conversation just kept going. Many need the safety of a counselor's office to do this. I'd been going to counseling personally, which was helping me identify my feelings and open up. That's probably why this major conversation happened to take place in our living room.
Our friends knew how each of us were feeling, and they encouraged us to talk to each other. It was a hard night, but finally, out came the hurt and pain. Infertility had affected us in different ways. We were physically tired. Parenting was hard. But then, Mike put to words the deep-seated fear he carried as a husband with a wife with cancer:
Why invest in you if cancer’s going to take you away?
Reality looked very scary, but it was true. We were scared to connect. He felt it, and I felt the same thing too. It was easier for both of us to pull away.
We're still together, and now this is a memory of the past. Although we weren't immune to a cancer and marriage breakdown, we've made it through it.
It wasn't an overnight change, but reconnecting became a gradual process. We both had to reengage and tap into our faith in Jesus. Our personal faith led the way. We had to both be very humble, and stay open and willing to communicate, even when it was painful and the truth was heartbreaking.
As our love for God and one another grew, we looked forward to seeing each other again each day. We went on more dates. We talked about our days. We didn't want to live apart, we wanted to be together. Our breakdown began healing. Our vision of building a life returned. The unknown of how my health would turn out—if I had one more years or 70 years left—became less important and scary. We worked hard to live in the moment. We appreciated what we had.
Why Share About our Cancer and Marriage Breakdown
We share our story not to shame any couple who’s at odds with their spouse or getting divorced—cancer or no cancer. (I’m a kid of divorce and I have two blended families; and it's been a positive thing.) But, we share our story because we want other couples who are having breakdowns because cancer to know there's hope. Your relationship doesn't have to end in divorce.