My Husband Has Cancer: Does It Matter What Kind?

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In the waiting room.

When I tell people my husband has been receiving treatment for cancer, many ask—almost reflexively—“What kind?”

After thoughtful consideration, much of it conducted in waiting rooms, doctors’ offices, and pharmacy lines, I’ve decided this is not the most appropriate, or helpful, response.

At fifty-seven, I am sometimes fixated on causes of death for folks my age and younger. Hoping, I guess, that I might avoid their fates if I just have the facts. Take a different route, get a second opinion, stop the unhealthy habit.

So I get it, the curiosity. I just don’t like it.

If the answer to the question “What kind of cancer?” turns out to be one of the more aggressive types, will you label my husband a goner? If it’s categorized as “lifestyle related,” will you condemn him?

Each time I’m asked this question, I’m taken back to occasions when I’ve inquired, or wondered, upon hearing such announcements from others. All the times I made assumptions. I hope I never do that again.

From where I sit now, in a chair beside my husband as he receives chemotherapy infusions or next to him on the couch as he rests after radiation, the only real question is, “What can I do?”

 

 

MayBelle on Marriage: Take Two {Who Says MayBelle Isn’t Romantic?}

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Lest MayBelle be labeled “inexcusably unromantic” or “a marriage buzzkill” (not her critics’ exact words), in light of last week’s post on marriage, let her set the record straight by providing intimate and heartwarming examples of the things she and Precious do for one another to show their affection. Don’t panic: This does not involve sexual innuendo.

Every year on their anniversary, Precious works to get gifts from both the “modern” and the “traditional” anniversary gift categories. To wit:

For their third anniversary, leather and crystal, Precious got MayBelle a baseball glove and a crystal baseball paperweight. He started trying to teach MayBelle about baseball when they first got together (Go Cards!), and they would “watch” games together over the phone. Those lessons continue today, as you might imagine if you’re privy to MayBelle’s deep and abiding disinterest in sports.

For their eighth anniversary, when the gifts were linen and bronze, MayBelle actually found a bronze (ish) lamp with a linen shade. It was a flying pig lamp, but Precious appreciated the effort nonetheless.

Precious cooks for MayBelle almost every night, because if they had to rely on MayBelle for food they’d be either really thin or really fat. Plus, he seems to enjoy the hunting down of recipes and the prepping and the chopping and the simmering, deliberate activities that require patience and a decent attention span, both of which MayBelle lacks.

Precious’ parents died before MayBelle came along, so she knows them only through Precious. One Christmas, MayBelle found an old drawing of his mother and had it framed beautifully (thank you Beveled Edge in Nashville) and it made Precious tear up a bit when she gave it to him, so surprised was he.

On another Christmas, when MayBelle had to be out of town for work, doing two things she really doesn’t like to do, fly and be on television, she thought there wouldn’t be time to get a tree due to the timing of her gig. They had agreed they’d “skip the tree this year.” But Precious went ahead and bought one and had it waiting for MayBelle when she got home. There it was, in all its Scotch Pine glory, in the middle of the den. Boy oh boy did that make MayBelle cry.

MayBelle hopes these examples reassure you that romance is alive and well in the MayBelle-Precious household. There are others, but MayBelle believes in leaving some things to the imagination. Plus, Precious is a private kind of guy.

“I think Precious might be more romantic than you,” said a friend, after, apparently, reading last week’s blog post. (This friend happened to be the one Precious called to ask for suggestions about the best spas in town so he could get MayBelle a gift certificate for her birthday.) She might be right. Having long prided herself on “bring practical,” MayBelle could probably stand to amp up her romance game. But she doesn’t let a day go by without telling Precious she loves him, and he seems to think there’s romance enough in that.

MayBelle on Marriage {Don’t Worry, This Won’t Take Long}

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Back in 2002, at age forty-one, MayBelle, who theretofore had been considered an “old maid,” transitioned to someone who “married late.” She resents both those descriptors, as you might imagine MayBelle would, because there were no guarantees—or requirements—she would ever marry. MayBelle is delighted that cultural norms have shifted at least somewhat although not enough to suit her–especially in the Deep South where she lives–toward realizing marriage is not the only route to happiness.

One element of such partnering is a numbers game, along with a dash or two of serendipity and a handful of what might only be described as “secret ingredients.” MayBelle’s parents did not promise her a prince, riding a horse or otherwise. They were too busy telling her she had to go to graduate school so she would be positioned to support herself. MayBelle is driven to distraction by people who fill little girls’ heads with seemingly surefire notions of weddings and white-picket-fence happily ever afters (is this really a thing?) as if it’s a done deal. Some folks get it, and some don’t. (MayBelle knows she’s talked about this before, but that’s how much it bugs her. She appreciates your indulgence.)

Several of MayBelle’s mentors have been women who never married. Her Aunt Vannie, for example, who lit out from Water Valley, Mississippi, for Greenwich Village and made a life for herself by herself. What a fabulous broad she was. MayBelle still wears a shawl (black and white, from England) and a big ol’ topaz ring she got from Vannie, that enticing woman now long laid low. And her Aunt Theora, who took up painting later in life and developed into an acclaimed, self-taught artist.

Here’s another thing MayBelle loathes: “Why did you wait so long to marry?” Because, she wants to snap back, it took that long for Precious to get here. Plus, if you must know, the only guy who asked her before that was drunk at the time, and the only one she thought she might have wanted ended up marrying a friend of hers. Two friends, actually, after the first one divorced him.

MayBelle may have been a little slow to matters of the heart, not having dated much in her life, but she did know enough not to say “I do” simply to avoid living alone. So when MayBelle and Precious, who is six years older than she, announced they were getting married she thinks they were as surprised as anyone. And really, really, grateful.

MayBelle heard the whispers, though, people saying they wondered if she knew everything about him, and did he know how much MayBelle adored (the word “worshipped” might have been employed, for emphasis) her father?

“No wonder she didn’t marry until after her father died,” was an especially insightful barb tossed her way. (Did MayBelle’s sarcastic tone come through there? If not, let her know and she’ll try again.) Baggage all around. Of course there’s baggage, MayBelle wanted to shout; we’re alive, aren’t we? And in our forties, for goodness sake. No baggage, no fully lived life, thinks MayBelle.

Those comments reminded MayBelle, in an intensely personal way, about the need for minding one’s own business: Don’t think you know best about other people’s lives. Tend your own instead.

And here they are, celebrating fifteen years of marriage. It’s not a lifetime, they realize, or an assurance of fifteen more, but it’s what they’ve got, and they’ll take it. They celebrated, in part, by hiking to a beautiful spot in western North Carolina, even though Precious’ idea of outdoorsy is being on the golf course and MayBelle has only recently taken to exercising. This is what marriage looks like to them: Walking side by side, even when the husband wears shoes meant for strolling, not trail trekking, and the wife keeps asking if they should turn back. Four feet, two hearts, one team.

MayBelle and Precious are not the kind of people who think love is enough. They don’t post on social media (Can you imagine Precious on Facebook?) about having “the most perfect spouse in the world,” and they don’t take much for granted. They think you need love, sure, but you also need luck, and a bit of work. Commitment helps, and trust, and all sorts of other intangible components that contribute to tangible sustainability.

So MayBelle and Precious can both tell you when they “ just knew” they were meant to be together, although they can’t necessarily tell you one another’s favorite flavor of ice cream. And no, they don’t have an “our song,” but if they did, it would be John Hiatt’s “Have a Little Faith in Me.”

 

 

 

 

Call Me When You Get There

Before I married, at age forty-one (yes for the first time), I had just about had it up to here with friends patting me on the shoulder and saying, “You’ll just know.” They were trying to make me feel better by telling me I would know when the right person came along. They were assuming that the right person would show up, even though my father taught me early on that there are no guarantees in life. I never dreamed of a knight on a horse, or even a banker in a Buick. So my friends thought they were making me feel better when I didn’t even feel bad to start with. I did, however, often feel worse after they fussed over my singlehood all the while regaling me with stories of their idyllic couplings and pictures of their perfect children.

It didn’t seem like the end of the world to me that I might live my whole life without marriage. I suspected it would be more fun with a partner, and there were Friday nights when I felt desperately sorry for myself, but I did not consider pairing up a prerequisite for a fulfilling and happy life.

“Why haven’t you married?” people would ask me. This seemed to me a preposterous question, one that answered itself. I hadn’t married because the right opportunity had not presented itself. The crush from high school didn’t ask, and I didn’t trust—or love—the one who proposed in my twenties. Plus, I think he was drunk at the time.

“Maybe you’re expecting too much,” friends would say, when all I really expected of myself was not to marry for the wrong reasons.

“What are you looking for?” they would surely inquire, and this one I had an answer for: Someone who cares whether I get home safe and sound. Someone besides my parents. I had often joked that the man who said these words to me, preferably while holding me close or leaning in to kiss me, would be the one: “Call me when you get home so I know you’re okay.”

So when, a few days after our first date, as I was preparing to leave my hometown where I was visiting and return to Nashville, where I live, Precious tapped on the driver’s side window as he stood in the parking lot of the coffee shop where he’d bought me a “sweet roll” for breakfast and said, “Please call me the minute you get to Nashville so I won’t worry about you,” I just knew.

 

 

Spiritual Housekeeping: In Which a Middle-Aged Goober Bares All

Before I married my husband, there were two things I was hesitant to tell him. I didn’t see the need to mention that my collection of childhood stuffed animals would be accompanying us to our new home, or that I’d been known to waste more than one perfectly good Saturday watching Murder, She Wrote reruns. Those idiosyncrasies I assumed he could handle, even if he didn’t share my affection for teddy bears or Angela Lansbury. Read more here…

A Dozen Roses: In Which a Middle-Aged Goober Defends Valentine’s Day

Yesterday I saw the Twitter and Facebook posts about how Valentine’s Day is silly, unnecessary, an invention of Hallmark. One man said he was proud he and his wife didn’t celebrate the occasion. A woman allowed as how she wouldn’t succumb to such meaningless societal pressure. As for me and my house, we say bring it on.

I was a young woman who made it to one prom in high school and maybe two fraternity formals in college; a twentysomething who was in more weddings than she can remember; a thirtysomething who spent many nights listening to girlfriends complain about their boyfriends as I sat home alone; and a middle-aged goober who married (yes, for the first time) at age 41.

When those roses arrive at the doorstep every February 14, I’m thrilled. Taking them out of the box and arranging them in the crystal vase my husband and I received for a wedding gift makes me happy. Going to a “fancy” restaurant for dinner and savoring every bite brings me great satisfaction. Coming home to sit on the couch, stare at my flowers, and know I am loved by Precious resembles nothing less than joy to me.

I was single for a long time, and I knew how to do it well. I had long gotten over any stigma about not having a husband. I could repair my own toilet, eat alone in restaurants, and attend parties solo without so much as a second thought. I worked hard to be okay by myself, really okay, not just lip-service “I don’t need a man” okay. The kind of okay that allowed me to pursue my dreams all by my lonesome. The kind of okay that let me know I did not need a partner to be whole, and that I could leave my mark on the world without a mate.

I went on blind dates, as few and far between as they were; did online dating; attended relationship seminars for singles; whined to God. Invited people over for dinner, took up extracurricular activities, went to churches rumored to have lots of “young people.” Whatever the relationship advisors suggested, I tried. And then I accepted the reality that not every woman will marry, and that most will survive just fine. I promise.

So when I did fall in love and walk down the aisle, it was a gift. An unexpected pleasure.

Do Precious and I need Valentine’s Day to show our affection? No. We try to do that every day in how we care for one another. Preparing a favorite meal, going to Walgreen’s for cold medicine when one of us is sick, noticing a sadness. But nor do we apologize for buying cards, ordering flowers, and sharing a decadent dessert on a certain day in February. Call it consumerist nonsense if you must; we call it love.

Rave Review for Festival of Faith and Writing

Last week I was surrounded by writers and word lovers and people who aren’t scared to ask questions about what it means to be faithful in the sense of religion. It was like being at Disneyland, only it was at Calvin College and there were no circling teacups or obnoxious songs about how small the world is.

One impressive voice of the many talented and brave speakers I heard is that of Sara Miles, a woman who took a bite of bread and tasted the grace of God. A woman who now devotes her time to being with those in need of food, fellowship, understanding, acceptance, or presence. And boy oh boy can she write.

I devoured Jesus Freak on the plane home from the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I will be dashing to a bookstore this afternoon to pick up Take This Bread. A woman worth reading, and, more importantly, being inspired by.

Another fine example of what a woman can do with pen and paper and passion is to be found in Jo Kadlecek with me in the picture. She’s the one on the left who’s not holding a copy of her moving book, Woman Overboard: How Passion Saved My Life (Fresh Air Books, 2008). Talented, funny, kind, and willing to take me out to dinner when I visit Massachusetts in the fall. A winning combination…

A revised version of this post appears at HerNashville.com/spirit