For better, for worse, in sickness and in health… That is what you promise when you marry someone. While I hope anyone getting married and making those vows contemplates them deeply, I also hope you aren’t confronted with them quite as rapidly as I felt we were.
When we stood in front of all of our loved ones on May 21, just seven weeks after being diagnosed with breast cancer and three days before going in for a double mastectomy, it was really hard to get out that, “in sickness and in health”. I tried to emphasize the “in health” because surely this is just a blip and most of our marriage will be healthy. Unfortunately though, the start of it wasn’t.
Agreeing to marry someone is a funny thing. The men reading may think, not as funny as asking someone! Seriously though, it’s a little scary. I remember thinking a lot about it as we were engaged. I’ve been fiercely independent for a long time so I had to ease into the idea of being a “we” instead of just a “me”.
When we started building our dream house and planning our wedding, we were pleasantly surprised to discover we agreed on most decisions. The “we” was coming very naturally as we planned big things. For us building the house and planning the wedding was a breeze. We easily agreed on a honeymoon in Hawaii and excitedly talked about the adventures we would go on while we were there. It was really fun and we couldn’t wait for it all to come to fruition.
Then breast cancer crashed the party. I feel that it is 100 percent easier to be the patient than to be the caregiver. As the patient, you can literally feel what is happening. The biopsy hurts, the doctor’s phone calls are directed at you, you get to sleep through all of your surgeries and everyone hovers and rallies around you. The caregiver is left to pick up all the pieces when people return to their lives and when the scaries and what-ifs attack you at night, early in the morning or in the middle of a random afternoon.
I first heard the term cosurvivor at the Komen Race for the Cure. As soon as I heard it, my heart filled with love for my husband. Luke has been so much more than a caregiver. He has helped me survive this crazy, difficult journey.
After my surgeries, he re-proposed to me. They don’t let you wear jewelry into surgery so he would hold my engagement ring for me, then he would get down on one knee and offer up my sparkler while he was helping me get dressed in recovery. It brightened a tough day every time.
Luke was the traffic cop for all of my family and friends. We are so lucky to have tons of people that called and texted wanting to know how surgery was going or how I was holding up. Luke kept them all in the loop and assisted all the people who wanted to bring us meals by making sure they were spread out so we were taken care of and didn’t waste anything.
When we realized I had to have a double mastectomy, he was the one to finally say out loud, “I will cancel the honeymoon.” I knew that was the most logical thing but I couldn’t bring myself to say it. And he did. He fought every airline, got all the paperwork submitted and got everything refunded.
We honeymooned at REX Hospital. It was a far cry from two weeks in Hawaii but Luke helped make the best of it. He saw things you don’t exactly imagine your brand new husband having to see that early on and jumped right in to help the nurse manage it all.
For WEEKS, I could not dress and undress myself. Luke literally dressed and undressed me every single day and every single night. He got me into and out of bed, on and off the couch, he brushed my hair, put on my socks and forced me to eat some food before I took any meds so I wouldn’t be sick. Through it all he told me I was beautiful.
It’s tough to put into words the feelings you have through this journey. It kicks off with such an adrenaline rush as you move from one surgery to the next and go from one step to another. Then you are suddenly sitting there, unable to leave the house, unable to do anything for yourself and unsure what to think about any of it. You look in the mirror and wonder how the hell it came to this. The emotions are a lot to handle. Luke has confronted them head on. And I think I am normal when I say I am a bit depressed and more than a bit anxious. He checks me when I need to be checked and he reassures me when I don’t even realize how much I need reassuring.
I could go on and on about the crazy things my husband has done for me this year, and really throughout our relationship. Luke has carried me through cancer and recovery all while managing his own busy life and career. I can confidently say, cancer picked the wrong family. WE kicked its ass. Luke survived it and continues to survive it just as much as I did and do. He’s my cosurvivor. This year was supposed to be whimsical and adventurous and turns out, it’s been exactly that. It’s all about perspective and I am so thankful that Luke has helped me keep mine.
Today is his birthday so please join me in shouting from the rooftops how glad we are that he was born. I love you, Luke Payne. I am so thankful to be yours.