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Poetry and Medicine
September 8, 2020

Moving Back to the Marriage Bed

JAMA. 2020;324(10):1010. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.7447

A month since my mastectomy,
I’ve slept in the spare room,
which is closer to a toilet,
and because my left side ached
where a surgeon grafted
back skin and muscle over my heart.
I joked, “Tonight don’t be scared
if you wake to find a balding
white-haired lady in your bed.”
Some men leave women
when they hear the word cancer.
True, we lose the parts that once
defined us, wrongly or not,
our hair, a breast or two, our libido.
Maybe such partners fear costs
of a consuming process
of surgery, radiation and chemo,
in my case, a stubborn tumor
that returned too quickly.
I had to remind myself
I am more than my body.
After the last, worst surgery
my husband emptied drains
extending like gummy parasites
from wounds on belly and back,
which he cleaned and bandaged
when I couldn’t even look in the mirror.
He assured me I looked fine, just fine.

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    1 Comment for this article
    A Stable Long-term Marriage Has Been a Huge Factor in my Ovarian Cancer Treatment
    Teri Newman, MSN, BSN, BA, RN |
    My husband has been with me every step of the way of my cancer battle. It started when my late sister called to tell me she was BRCA1+ and that I needed to be tested because our father was also BRCA1+ and as it turns out, so am I. The first step was the RRSO and hysterectomy that revealed the bilateral ovarian cancer (that had also spread to the uterus) I was hoping it would prevent.

    I was totally asymptomatic with FICO stage 2-C cancer. This was 90 days to the day (Feb 18, 2016)
    from the death of my sister from the same cancer. The surgeon told me I had a 100% resection. In July 2016 my MRI
    revealed the return of the cancer and the battle was on. My husband went to every appointment with me and his loving support was a huge factor in the reason I am still alive almost 5 years later. He's been there through 3 major surgeries and supported my decision to refuse chemotherapy for 4 years until I was left with no other options. He's taken me to every chemo appointment and has never complained about now having the majority of the house work in addition to working full-time and all the other things he does. I would never have made it this long without him. When I apologize to him for not being much help around the house, he tells me it's no big deal--which it may not be to him, but means everything to me. He says he is shocked that I have had the amount of fight in me to continue battling this wretched cancer for almost 5 years and is my cheerleader and advocate for virtually everything. He is not repulsed by the scars left from all the surgeries or the colostomy bag that was needed in January of 2020. He's been a rock through all of this and I am blessed beyond words to have him by my side in this fight for my life. Some of the other cancer patients I know have had their spouses leave them during their cancer battle. I can't imagine how awful it would be if I had to go through a divorce in addition to cancer treatment. I can't believe that there are people so low that they would leave a seriously ill spouse, but there are. I am blessed beyond words that my marriage has survived this battle and remained solid and loving. My husband's "love goggles" prevent him from seeing me as anything but the woman he loves through all of this, and I love him even more for his staunch support even though I hate to put him through this. People say marriage is a 50-50 proposition, but that's not true, I am convinced it is a 98-2 percent. Sometimes you give 98% and sometimes you get it. I am lucky that my husband has given me 98% in this fight during the times I could only give him 2%.