Still

Though unspoken, they both knew that after 38 years of marriage their time together would soon draw to an end. Despite the valiant war she waged the cancer had overtaken every aspect of her being and we all knew she would not be with us when the morning came. We moved her into the family room as she requested, so she could be among her children and grandchildren, not tucked far away from them in a corner bedroom.

My father knelt beside her. Thinking he was simply bathing her (a task I myself had performed every day over the course of that week), I began to tidy up the nearby kitchen. He raised her left hand and kissed her wedding band. He began to bathe her hand, her arm, her shoulder. He stroked her hair, over and over. She was much calmer, and her breathing that had been so labored in the previous minutes seemed to become less difficult. She turned her face toward him…they were only inches apart from one another.

They did not speak. Their gaze locked onto one another. His hand lingered over her shoulder, then moved toward her chest. Through her entire illness, I had never seen her shed one tear, until now. His hand did not move. I could only imagine what each of them was thinking.

Were they remembering, were they longing? Yearning? Were they aching in anticipation of separation?

Was he trying to memorize her? She, him?

It suddenly dawned on me what was taking place just a few feet away from me. I hurriedly left the room, allowing them to be alone for the last time.

To the casual observer, the scene unfolding may have appeared to a be a sponge bath from a loving caregiver for his dying wife. But it was so much more than that.

What I was witnessing was a most tender act of love making.

Photo Credit: Man met bril (Flikr.com)

Boobless and….Well…..Still Boobless

This is a lengthy one, so grab your pumpkin spice latte and settle in.

There are a lot of studies out there that have looked at how stress and severe illnesses like breast cancer affect marriages or intimate relationships.

The news isn’t good. Of course, there are many factors that contribute to whether a marriage or an intimate relationship succeeds or fails in times like this (well, or even in times not like this), but a number of the studies show that the divorce rate during or after a serious illness is over 70 percent. Folks, that’s nearly 3 out of 4 marriages that tank after a health crisis.

If you know anything about me, you know that I hate divorce.

Hate it.

I hate what it does to men and women. I hate what it does to kids. I hate what it does to society. I didn’t have divorced parents—but I have taught over 31,000 students and have spoken to college students across this country, and I know what they struggle with. And when I write the books, I read hundreds and hundreds of research articles about divorce. There’s no way to pretty it up. And I refuse to be politically correct about it.

<You’re probably wondering why I’m bringing this up now instead of talking about breast cancer.>

Here’s my point. If marriage really is about through-good-times-and-bad-and-in-sickness-and-in-health-and-when-life-is-stormy-and-when-it’s-quiet—WHY oh WHY do 70 percent of marriages fail in the bad times?

Because this is what happens when we reduce love to something that we do, instead of experiencing it as a part of who we are.

Are you starting to get me, where I’m coming from?

If you do love, you react certain ways when things happen. When you are love, nothing changes. You’re unmovable. You’re steadfast. Rock. Solid.

When I got my diagnosis, I literally couldn’t breathe—I couldn’t gasp in, I couldn’t breathe out. Everything came to a screeching halt. And that’s because no one in my family had ever survived it. I was petrified, and I had good reason to be.

But I had one thing that a lot of women don’t have: A husband who loved me right where I was.

Not the superficial bring-me-a-cup-of-coffee-or-rub-my-back-when-I-don’t-ask-for-it kind of love. But a kind of love that accepted and embraced my weaknesses.

Rock.

Solid.

Love.

One day Dave helped me into the bathroom (okay, you gotta admit that’s a different kind of love altogether). He made a phone call, a phone call he didn’t expect me to overhear. He called my doctor.

I didn’t listen to the entire conversation. But I did hear him say—broken, sobbing uncontrollably, begging—“Please. Please. I just want my wife back. Just promise me you can give me my wife back. I can’t keep watching her go through this. Please.”

<This is the point where, if I were talking to you in person, I would almost be am pleading with you to understand what I’m trying to say. And I would be am crying.>

I didn’t even need to hear his words. All I needed to hear was the emotion behind his words to know that he. loved. me. with a kind of love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. The kind of love that never fails.

Don’t you see? That’s what this entire blog experience is all about. To teach you, to show you, what I know about love…from a research viewpoint…from a personal experience viewpoint…from reality. To somehow get the message out that love is more than a dare.

And to understand that love is more than a promise.

I want you to experience the kind of love that withstands [the early death of a parent or the death of a child or mental illness or a job loss or bad in-laws or money troubles or rebellious teens or cancer or arguing or a horrible job] anything the world throws at it. The no matter what kind of love.

And over the next few weeks I hope to show you how to get this kind of love—so when you do bring your partner a cup of coffee, it’s out of that rock solid love place in your heart.

A couple of days ago, I said that my breast cancer experiences were as much about love as they were anything else.

I mean let’s be real. When all was said and done, nothing changed the fact that I was boobless and, well…..still boobless.

But even though my body didn’t make it through the experiences unscathed, my marriage did. Our love did.

And that’s a victory in and of itself.

Boobless But Not Broken

It’s Pinktober. That most wonderful time of the year, National Breast Cancer Awareness month. The time of year when you can’t find a roll of white toilet paper at Target, much less an orange M&M or an Oreo with white icing.

That time of year where people everywhere remind people everywhere else that 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer at some point in their lives.

To be perfectly pinkly correct, I thought it might be a good idea to take a little detour to share something with you about my life. But as I sit here and think about it, we’re not really going off course at all….because what I have to share with you is as much about love, intimacy, sex, and relationships as it is anything else.

I’m the boobless girl behind the pink ribbons.

Fifteen years ago, I was diagnosed with DCIS, an intraductal breast carcinoma. I was 36-years-old. At the time I had four boys all under the age of 12, and I had just begun work on my PhD. And just two years prior to my diagnosis, I buried my mother who died of cancer (at the age of 57). Her sister died from breast cancer at the age of 39, her mother died of breast cancer at the age of 52, and a cousin, diagnosed with breast cancer just a few months after me, died at the age of 43.

Talk about a crappy roll of the genetic dice.

Ironically, it all started on a perfectly pink October day. And once it started, it was a runaway train…..

I found a lump and went to the doctor and he said “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it, I’m the doctor and I’ll do the worrying for you, come see me in 6 months,” and I thought “You’re crazy, I just buried my mom you [expletive], I’m not waiting!” so I found another doctor and [skip forward about 4 months of maaaaaaany tests and scans and needles and oh-so-painful biopsies but I still needed to be a good parent and an “A” student and a good little Christian who counted it all joy] she said, “Come into the kiss and cry room and I’ll give you the dreaded diagnosis, the diagnosis I know you know is coming because you saw my face when I drew the fluid out of your breast,” and so Dave and I sat in the low-lit room that had nothing but a box of Kleenex on the table, and we looked at each other and knew and she came in and said, “Both breasts need to be removed immediately to save your life!” and she expected us to cry but we didn’t even need the Kleenex because we were so dumbfounded and confused nothing made any sense so there were no tears and she explained how the breasts that fed all of my babies and gave my husband and I so much pleasure would be “removed” and how the surgical “procedure” would take about 12 hours and how the treatments would start about 4 weeks after the “procedure” and I had the “procedure” and the pain was indescribable and parenting and loving and living with 12 glass drain tubes and two IVs and 100s of stitches was ridiculously unbearable and insanely hilarious all at the same time and like every woman who had cancer before me, and every woman who has had or will have it since me, we took it minute by minute and sometimes we were incredibly strong and other times we were incredibly weak but we did it.

Whew.  We did it.  And that’s what Pinktober is all about.

Boobless, but not broken.

Come back tomorrow and I’ll share what we learned about love through the process.
Kelly
(Which, ironically, in Gaelic means “Warrior Princess.” In breast cancer survivor speak it means “bad ass”!!!)