Cancer and Intimacy: How to maintain life in a healthy relationship when you’re not healthy

I contend, against what some might disagree with, that the fundamental rules of the road still apply to relationships even after a cancer diagnosis. Mind you, special circumstances arise like depression for either partner, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for the patient, anxiety, survivors guilt (if you’re not stage four), and an inability to partake in sexual activities as you once enjoyed. This is true especially if you’re undergoing treatments like chemotherapy or radiation, and during healing from surgeries.

The endless list of caveats, not excuses, swirls around the bedroom like the static electricity before a storm – it’s invisible but we can all feel its effects. Sex in the time of metastatic breast cancer can leave women feeling awkward, shy, unattractive… In some cases sex can pose a medical danger due to the suppression of the immune system by treatments. The act of intercourse or the insertion of (fill in the blank) can tear a very delicate vaginal lining allowing bacteria to enter the blood stream. I’ll leave it here for you to draw your own logical conclusions.

A host of various challenges beyond physical intimacy can create a hurricane gale force wind of yelling in the living room, too. Not to mention the generally debilitating fatigue and insomnia causing scheduling mishaps. Financial burdens cause cancellations of plans and much needed vacations that must wait, or in some cases never ever come to fruition.

Those two examples, complex and full of emotional heaviness, are just a few in a list of “collateral damages” as Dr. Susan Love refers to all the plights caused by gynecological cancers . But cancer doesn’t have to pull up the roots of a strong relationship, nor does it effect the ability to execute on the basic blocking and tackling of keeping love alive in every couple’s relationship playbook. I keep a laundry list of things in my mind that I know require my attention to protect whatever got us together and keeps us together.

We like to believe cancer changes certain aspects of our personalities, generally for the better. We also must differentiate between chemo brain when applicable, fatigue juxtaposed against raw intelligence, common sense, and kindness. If we were jerks prior to cancer, chances are we are nicer but still jerks after cancer. Irrespective of side effects, cancer probably cannot make you a complete idiot either sans a few IQ points from whole brain radiation, god forbid, either.

For example, there’s no excuse for not keeping the anger and hostility in check in lashing out at your mate. That’s a stupid use of your cancer card. A mate who didn’t ask for the role of caregiver and primary earner, if these weren’t your beloved’s role as it probably became on the day you got handed your cancer card and membership in a club you never wanted to belong in the first place.

I try to live by how I wish to be treated, though god knows it’s not always possible. On the days when I find myself in a bad mood I stow myself away with apologies in advance, or if I’m up for it I vacate the premises for a while. Generally speaking, as was in life before cancer leaving for a spell makes the heart grow fonder and stupid arguments forgiven if you can even recall what the tiff was about in the first place. A short term memory lapse may be indeed be the single upside due to chemo brain when it comes to silly arguments. A nice thought anyway.

Yet, cancer can tear apart even the most stable of relationships. That is prior to diagnosis. In my own case, the C’s depression nearly did us in but I’m not the kind of person to cut and run when the chips are down. And he’s been better for a couple of months now and I’m certain I made the right decision, although it was difficult at times to do the right thing.

Reversal of Fortune

Many people disagreed with my reversal of caregiver duties. I’d been advised he should be taking care of me. I thought long and hard about it and I found a very counterintuitive conclusion: my mind was not on my cancer and by defocusing my energy from thinking about my own illness, I didn’t succumb to self pity. The pity party never got started, and as we do not know how long I had cancer before my stage four diagnosis, it’s been at least six years very likely I’ve been walking around with breast cancer.

Prior to four years ago, the C had a very high stress job at the worlds most prestigious and popular company as a senior scientist. For 10 years I played a key role in keeping him and my stepsons healthy and happy while holding my own in a career that ended the day cancer began. He’s still supporting me with a home, an automobile, money when I absolutely need it, etc., and for lack of some of those kinds of stressors I’m very, very lucky. And I know it, and now that the big D (depression) has ended he doesn’t ever think to bring this up as a point of contention. During the big D, C resented me having to rely on him. For now, we are past the big D, and we are getting along better than ever. With caution and the proper medications, that is.

Ilene’s golden rules of a peaceful relationship

The following comprise a list of free, no-cost high value things you can do to strengthen your relationship at a time when many fall apart for various reasons and whose fault can be either person.

So try as I can, I:
Listen
Acknowledge
Apologize
Laugh
Forget it
Forgive it
Hug and kiss
Trust
Laugh
Be a best friend
Laugh
Hug some more

The Underminers

One little bit of smack talk is treacherous to a marriage. One little bit of love right now – even a knowing look of “it’s me, don’t worry I got you,” will play in Peoria every night. There’s some very basic things my 53+ years have provided me through experiences in my understanding of men, helping me find a peaceful way to travel from Venus to greet my martian and meet him half way.

A few good general lessons make sense whether cancer invaded or not:
Don’t ask “what are you thinking sweetheart.” He’s not thinking about anything. Really.
Change yourself, not him. Help him be a better him, with augmentations like a shirt he’d buy himself. If he needs you to help out, he will ask what to do eventually.
Those two round things in a bag in his pants are his to enjoy . Let him keep them. He has to protect them to protect you and that’s his job because we aren’t that evolved as a species yet.
This keeps me out of the cool feminist refrigerator but I couldn’t care less.
You do look fat in that dress/ skirt/ shorts/ jeans so don’t ask him to take the beating for it.
If you don’t have your own interests get cracking or crafting and pursue them outside of one another and outside of work. Life’s not dull, the same memories replayed and infinitum, are.
Privacy is an indelible right for anyone so do not go through anything of his ever. Never ever. Not a cell phone, not email, not the glove box of his car.
If you don’t leave for that place you intended to chances are you probably,y never will, either. Fun must become part of your routine both together and apart.

We will survive

Without the few aforementioned best practices, a couple won’t develop the foundations for a future and for love to find a higher ground above any kind if illness. You can call me a romantic because I am. And I brought breakfast in bed to him 90% of the days we’ve been together. I also follow my own advice. I didn’t fail, but yet for a marriage go on while starving it of love one may lose their life as well from the stress level brought on by a breakup. Know that to go on whatever path or direction your lives may take together, remember to be BFFs first because everything else will follow in the footsteps of your good choices…

The forest of cancer and the trees of love
… even in the wildest winds there will be one last twisting deciduous leaf on a fragile white fir branch way in the back of the shallow foothills. If it’s alive you’ll find it. The leaf reminds us in the forest there’s a tree with hope of life clinging to it as we must cling to one another even in the harshest storms. As the tree seems reborn in the springtime, love can withstand wintertime, too.

The Mystery Award – Much Gratitude to Lahla for Recognizing My Blog

What is the Mystery Award?
Wow an award, so unexpected and so cool. I can’t say I’m not happy to receive the award, though it’s a mystery to me that my words have touched someone enough to nominate my blog. Lahla Brain Cancer Freeish, my nomintatrix to you I am grateful for this award and it’s no mystery that I have a mutual respect for your writing, and inasmuch I wanted to show my appreciation by fully answering your questions and so my apologies for taking so long. We are, all of us, blessed to have a platform to speak our hearts and minds. In my case, I focus on my metastatic breast cancer diagnosis and to living life to the best of my ability and to talk about it candidly and with an audience who support my blog.

Quoted from the Mystery Blogger Award’s Creator:
“Mystery Blogger Award” is an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging; and they do it with so much love and passion. – Okoto Enigma
Here’s the link to Okoto Enigma’s blog http://www.okotoenigmasblog.com

Rules:
Put the award logo/image on your blog.
List the rules.
Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
Answer the questions from the blogger who nominated you.
Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well
Tell your readers 3 things about yourself.
You have to nominate 10 – 20 people
Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog
Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question (specify)
Share a link to your best post(s)

THANK YOU THANK YOU VERY VERY MUCH!
She’s an awesome writer and a brave woman. Read her and be prepared to think. Here’s the link:
https://lahla.blog
Lahla you inspire me to continue with my ramblings and to become a better, more relevant blogger to reach out to people who have cancer as well as others who struggle with challenges of different sorts. My expectation of blogging hadn’t included awards by other bloggers who I respect a great deal, such as yourself. If anyone had given me such an honor, you’d absolutely have been one of my selected writers to receive it in response. I’m grateful beyond my words… It’s not just another blog about cancer and its collateral damage.

Three things about me:
1. Once upon a time I was a CEO and Chairperson of a 2,400 person international contact center company with offices in the Philippines, India, and three small towns in the United States headquartered in Miami, Florida.
2. I graduated with honors from University of Florida with a degree in English and a minor in philosophy and I worked my way through school. Since I had my GED and dropped out of high school in the 11th grade, I wasn’t a candidate for admission. And though I had an Associates of Arts degree with honors it wasn’t until I wrote a letter to the Chancellor of Education of the Sunshine State of Florida throwing myself at his mercy and asking for just one semester to prove myself that the day of matriculation for my soon to be junior year, was I accepted. The letter stated I needed to maintain a “C” or better average. I aced all my classes and the rest as they say, is history.
3. I’m a writer. I couldn’t say this sentence until two years ago. I’d thought it egotistical and not applicable until a very wise, warm, and witty man asked me why I didn’t call myself what I am. My writing as a result improved 10x by simple stating a fact. How words do make us believe in ourselves. Now I’m more cognizant about what I say to people and try to bring positivity to my discussions – words can heal bad words can wound. Once something is said, it cannot be unsaid.

Lahla’s five questions:
They’re answered humbly and with the staccato of a shrill, “you like me! You really like me!,” of Sally Fields winning an Oscar award for Steel Magnolias. Should your current youthfulness prevent you from having experienced this rare yet spectator worthy display of gratitude, let me digress for your edification: it’s a moment of true Hollywood humility that seeped into the cultural gestalt of the 1980s. This took place during the era when the bulk of my teenaged, Florida inbred, burgeoning writing career took flight. You may read some of that shrill shrinking daisyesque behavior embellishing my post cancer apocalyptic retelling of my life here on the Cancerbus.

When and why did you start blogging and how does it fit into your life?
Perhaps Lahlah chose my blog and me by way of my blog for this mysterious gift because she found my benign self deprecating humor and my more malignant posts about life with metastatic breast cancer somewhat inspiring and blatantly honest. At least I hope so, and this is why I began blogging. Not to win any awards, but to win the hearts of fellow travelers in cyberspace over and create a place I may go to talk to them one on one. A blog to feel less alone in my predicament and find others who, whether in a similar place in life or who have tastes in poetry and a dark sense of humor like mine. Who likes to talk to themselves ALL the time, anyway?

What kind of things do you do that make you feel good about yourself?
Showing gratitude for small glimmers of hope and pulling out an uncharacteristic spirit-based patience with Craig, my life partner of 12+ years and his four-year depression; writing the past four years of experience with MBC (my new resume) to share with those who may want to peek at my style of illness navigation; holding onto the cat-love of my life when all seems dark and my body hurts the most; and spending time with the friends who have become the rocks on which I stand when my on foundations seem weak and unreliable. It’s not the obvious things like charitable fundraising or making time to generate awareness for metastatic cancer. Those naturally give my heart a fresh pump of blood. But it’s the everyday, the simple slower activities and the gratefulness I feel for having love in my life, that gives my soul it’s nourishment. Also my recent fascination with art journaling as an adjuvant therapy to my poetry and personal essays.

If you could go anywhere in the world OR back in time, where would you go and why?
Four years ago I’d have said 1900 -1930s London, England for the writers and the Victorian sensibilities to meet the Bloomsbury Group writers along with Virginia Stephens Woolf and the rest. But life changes with age and with priorities, so realizing that I’m in a certain time space continuum, and without any assistance from a time traveling mechanism, other than an airplane of course, I’d go to France in the present day. For the je ne saus quoi, the terroir, the art, the TGV trains, the variation in weather, the house owned by Count Lurpak with it’s view of the mountains from the bathtub, the proximity of the south to other places like Barcelona. I’d have moved there if not for meeting Craig 12 years ago. I hope that before I expire I get back to the beloved place for an extended time. In fact if it were the last place I’d visit I’d die happy for it.

What is your favorite food? If it’s special beyond taste, please feel free to share why?
Food is my favorite food – rarely run into anything I won’t eat if offered, although I could live without a few Asian odiferous delicacies. And I cook…anything. My dream if I live so long: make each recipe in Julia Child’s the Art of French Cooking. I’ve created feasts of roughly 1/4 of the well worn, butter splattered tome. So, you may have guessed, I cook. I’ve cooked for as long as I could write, and learned at the side of my grandmother and to some degree my mother. My mom let me take over the kitchen about any time I wanted from the time I turned seven. As long as I cleaned up.

Thanksgiving feasting with turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry relish, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole. My Thanksgiving feasts can take place mid summer, the dead of winter, or anytime someone says, “oh, I really crave that turkey you make.”

What inspires you the most in life?
Change inspires. Stagnation kills creativity. So anything that requires change, be it my foibles, my craft, residences, travel, even daylight savings time provides me with enough change to soothe my ADHD and up the ante on my creative side. During my career I changed jobs within and between companies leaving a resume that could challenge even the most experienced of head hunters. My clients inspired me, start ups were my speciality. Now, my life is a start up and every new day brings changes to my body, mind, and soul. Since my diagnosis (talk about change) simply upon waking to see each new day unfold, I am inspired.

Nominees!
Finally, my no my knees, in no order of significance…with a few people you may not have had the treat of getting to know through their writing:
1. Leon’s Existential Cafe http://existentialcafe.blog/
2. Xena’s We Hold These Truths… http://Blackbutterfly7.wordpress.com/
3. A Guy Called Bloke and K9 Kadoodlepip AGuyCalledBloke.blog
4. Sara in Lala Land http://sarainlalaland.wordpress.com/
5. Thanks Cancer – and their podcast, too -http:// thankscancer.com/
6. Unbreakable Queen’s Lifelessons Diary http://Unbreakableyetfragile.com/
7. Breast Cancer Conscript -http://breastcancerconscript.wordpress.com/
8. Molly Kochan – http://everythingleadstothis.com/
9. Nancy Stordahl – http://nancyspoint.com/about/
10. Brian Lageose – https://brianlageose.blog (I forgive you. 😜)
11. Julia Barnickle – http://juliabarnickle.com

My questions:
1. Write a haiku about being nominated for a blogger award and title the haiku with the cartoon character with whom you most relate.
2. What’s your superpower and how do you use it for good not evil?
3. Do you believe in a spiritual world or some kind of afterlife? If yes describe, if not why do you believe this is all there ? ( not just a one word “no” answer for the atheists nominees.)
4. What’s the best place in the world you’ve ever been and why should anyone go there? Convince me. Plane tickets are a good way to convince me. (Joke. The last part.)
5. What are the top 10 songs that make you feel good when you’re down, or inspire you, or you just love to listen to anytime or all the time.

Links to my best posts:
My last two posts I’m very pleased with as my writing matures and I focus less on bitching about cancer and more about looking outwards. I also am proud of my poetry but I’ll let you decide if you want to read it, as I know poems aren’t everyone’s cup o’ noodles.

Dense: Very Stupid Breasts Outsmart Early Detection

Integrative Hope: the prison of a diseased body

Worth a repost

I Judge Myself through Love

Click on the link to read a post of my daily self-directed “prayer.” It’s more philosophical than religious, more a reminder that the antithesis of pain equals Love ❤️