Cancer Doesn't Come With a Gift Basket
Last updated: April 2023
As a kid I always imagined growing old with my partner, watching them age, seeing who we become with each new decade of life, and falling in love over and over again. When I met my wife and partner Stephanie it was easy to imagine that happening for us. Until the cancer came back.
Being angry at cancer
Cancer takes a lot. For a while, it felt like it took my dreams and even worse my ability to dream, to look forward to the future, and see better days on the horizon. I was ashamed to admit it for a long time, but I was angry.
Angry that my wife was so young, our daughter not even five, and it felt like our life was stolen from us. We would go to the cancer clinic and I would look around not seeing us represented in the faces that looked back.
Being young with cancer
Cancer affects all ages, but in a cancer clinic as a young adult patient, it can feel alienating, let alone a young queer couple. I was mad that there were couples there who had gotten to live their lives, watching each other grow old before a diagnosis. It felt like at least some small consolation prize the universe could have offered me, but hadn't.
The more time we spent at the cancer clinic, the more time I spent sitting in waiting room chairs and watching what happened around us the more I realized how wrong I was.
How cancer affects us all
It took time, but I began to see us reflected back in the faces of the other patients who sat in the waiting room. Not always queer, not always young, but fighting the same battles we were.
They play in my head and I think about them often. The daughter quietly crying into her hands after her father was taken back for testing. The mother who was so sick she couldn't hold her child who screamed for her in her husband's arms and then apologized for the noise. The gentlemen on the bench outside the elevator compared the difficulty of different treatments they'd been on. Like they were buddies trading old war stories. Cancer had taken from me, but it took from them too.
Hard lessons to learn
My anger wasn't helping me, it was blinding me. Keeping me from seeing what I did have. It's okay to be angry, but it wasn't working for me to let myself drown in it. I was so mad about what I was losing that I couldn't see that it wasn't gone yet. My partner was still here and by getting lost in my anger I was letting the time we had together pass by.
The universe doesn't offer consolation prizes, cancer doesn't come with a gift basket. Life isn't fair, the universe doesn't follow playground rules. It's been a hard lesson to learn, but one I think I might be becoming grateful for.
We might not have decades, but we have hours, days, weeks, months, and possibly years. We might not get to become old, gray, and wrinkled together, but we can stop and admire every new change.
Wrinkles, gray hairs, sagging skin, I'll kiss them all, and fall in love with each new version of my partner. Because one day I might not be able to.
Advanced breast cancer is an isolating and lonely disease.