Remarried and Metastatic
It might seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but one of my earliest thoughts upon reconciling my metastatic diagnosis was that I may, never again, be in a meaningful romantic relationship. Most of the metastatic patients I knew where happily married, or in committed relationships. There I was, newly-divorced, with three children, a stage IV diagnosis, and a glaringly precarious life expectancy.
Can metastatic breast cancer patients remarry?
Sure, I’d go on dates. I was date-able. But would I ever marry again? Is that something metastatic patients even do? It turns out, actually, yes. It is. While I am not re-married myself, I have gone on to meet a lot of metastatic patients who are. The funny thing is, all of them were blissfully happy with their new partners. No one reported drama, arguing, discontent. On the contrary, the metastatic patients I met who married after their diagnosis actually seemed, in many ways, more satisfied in their relationships than a lot of their counterparts.
This puzzled me at first, but after taking a long, hard look at my own relationships it made sense. Perfect sense, actually.
My marriage ended after my initial breast cancer diagnosis
My own marriage of eleven years crumbled after my stage II diagnosis. I had just given birth to our third child six months earlier, and out of the blue, one day, I had cancer.
I had been totally healthy. How could this be?! We had no family around to help, and finding constant child care and home support was difficult. With every chemotherapy session, every radiation, every cut of the surgeon’s scalpel, my marriage died a slow and painful death. The trouble was, I was too busy at the time, trying not to die, to even notice. My then-husband would not time off of work to come to chemotherapy with me. He complained about toys being on the floor after I had a mastectomy and could not bend to pick them up. These seemingly-minor events began to add up.
I was at the lowest point of my life, and the one person in the world who was supposed to be there for me, in sickness and in health, became a stranger. This realization, this loss, was honestly worse than the cancer.
Three years later and stage IV diagnosis
Three years, a divorce and a stage IV diagnosis later, I am in a happy, healthy relationship with a wonderful man. I was honest about my diagnosis from day one, explaining how metastatic breast cancer works, what my treatment is like, all that I have been through. Instead of scaring him away, he said, “I would love to come with you the hospital sometime.” And he has. Twice.
He met my doctor and held my hand as I fell asleep from Benadryl IV. For the first time in a long time, my guest chair at my infusion center was not empty. He has been more involved in my cancer experience after two months of being with me than my former husband was after a decade. How could this be? I thought about the experience of the other metastatic patients who married after diagnosis and compared it to my own. It made sense, actually.
New normal with metastatic breast cancer
We meet our partners when we already have cancer. And, typically, if we are dating, it is currently under control. We are, in a sense, settled into our “new normal”, mentally as well as physically. This is the only version of ourselves that they have ever known. They don’t have anything to compare it to, nor do we have to live up to the image of our former selves. Of a person who no longer exists anymore. I realized this is probably why these new relationships forged post-diagnosis are often more harmonious than that developed pre-cancer. A person can decide if this sort of life is for them, and if it’s not, walk away before becoming heavily-invested.
A good relationship feels like home
As for my new relationship, it is still in the early days, but my boyfriend is special. He makes me feel something I didn’t think I would ever feel again. The moment I met him, I felt like I was home. When a person feels like home, that’s is a powerful thing. I never feel insecure about myself, inadequate. On the contrary, he makes me feel confident, empowered, and beautiful. He encourages me to be the best version of myself.
We are going running this weekend, and he says we can go as slow as I want since I have trouble breathing from the cancer and radiation to my lung. He is gentle and patient.
He and I have this extraordinary reciprocal arrangement in which we care for each other. It is effortless. After feeling abandoned and alone, to feel accepted as I am is something I wish everyone could experience in their lifetime.
Metastatic breast cancer is not a factor in this decision
On the day we became boyfriend and girlfriend, he asked me, "Would you ever get married again?" "That’s a good question", I told him.
After my arduous divorce, really, I do not know. But metastatic breast cancer is not a factor in that decision at all. I refuse to allow this disease to permeate into a romantic relationship again. It has taken too much from me already.
What I do know is that I want to be in a loving, caring, committed relationship for the rest of my life, however long that may be. Metastatic patients are deserving of that, just like everyone else.
Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to share that on Friday, October 29, 2021, Danielle Thurston passed away. We know that Danielle’s voice and perspective continue to reach so many. She will be deeply missed.
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