What a Cancer Scare Taught Me About Marriage

I can do it alone, but I don’t always have to.

What a Cancer Scare Taught Me About Marriage

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photo courtesy of BonninStudio

filed under Couples, True Stories

I sat in the clinic’s waiting area, shivering a little from the air-conditioning. Why, I wondered, do I get so cold when I’m nervous?

The sonographer called my name and led me to a dimly lit room. She instructed me to put on a blue hospital gown and lie down on the bed with my arms raised above my head. Without warning, she slathered cold gel onto my skin then started moving the transducer back and forth. I didn’t dare look at the screen for fear of what I’d see. I looked directly at the ceiling.

“Hold on, I’ll ask the doctor to come see you,” the sonographer said.

That didn’t sound good.

“Hi there,” the doctor said. “Can you show me where you felt the lump?”

“Here,” I said, pointing to the spot on my left breast where I’d found a grape-sized lump three days prior while showering.

The doctor slathered more gel onto the area and pressed the transducer against it. I couldn’t hold on any longer, couldn’t stand not looking at the screen. I turned my head sideways in time to see the words “solid mass” on the screen. There it was, the thing I feared most, staring back at me.

“Do you have any history of breast cancer?” the doctor asked.

“No,” I said.

She continued and I couldn’t look away. My eyes were fixed on the screen, not knowing exactly what I was looking at. She found a second solid mass and a cyst.

“Okay, that’s it. You can change out of the gown now,” the doctor said.

I felt lightheaded as I undressed and redressed.

“When can I get the results?” I asked the sonographer.

“Two days,” she said.

Later that day, my husband Ric asked about the ultrasound. I’d told him about the lump immediately after I felt it, crying from fear, but when it came time to schedule the ultrasound, I’d turned down his offer to come with me. I wanted to go alone.

“It went fine,” I said.

“Just tell me, is it good news or bad news?”

“Bad news,” I said.

He looked at me, took my hand, and squeezed it. I felt so much in that small gesture.

Ric and I have been together for 13 years. We fell in love in college after numerous text messages and pre-class conversations and dealing with my strict, over-protective parents. After graduation, we both got jobs in the same city, six hours away from home.

Ric proposed on a Sunday morning, the last day of a long weekend at a resort off the coast of Coron, an island in the Philippines. It wasn’t one of those proposals where the couple hikes to a mountaintop and the man gets down on one knee. It happened quietly in our room. We got married a year later on a sunny Thursday afternoon in front of our closest family and friends.

We’d been together almost half our lives and had our share of ups and downs, but we’d only been married six months. We’d barely scratched the surface and I wasn’t prepared to put a crisis of this scale onto our young marriage.

The next day, the first day of waiting, I was optimistic. After all, I thought, the odds were in my favor. I was young and relatively healthy. Sure, I wasn’t an exercise buff, but I ate right, drank lots of water, took vitamins, slept for six hours every night, walked daily, and took the stairs. That was enough, right?

At the end of that first day, Ric surprised me with my favorite chocolate cake and offered to wash the dishes after dinner.

“No,” I said. “You cooked. Whoever cooks doesn’t wash. That’s always how we do it.”

“I know. But let me wash the dishes. Just for tonight.”

“I don’t want you to treat me differently just because of the uncertainty of some illness,” I said. “I can wash the dishes, so let me do it.”

“All right. I’m sorry,” he said. He wrapped his arms around my waist and kissed me on the forehead.

By the second day, results day, any trace of optimism was long gone. I couldn’t focus at work. I entered the keywords “breast ultrasound results” in the Google search bar and was terrified by what I saw. I decided that worrying about what I didn’t yet know wasn’t worth it. I immersed myself in work to keep myself distracted for the rest of the morning.

Once again, I had turned down Ric’s offer of coming with me to the clinic. Instead, I dropped by after lunch, even though there was a huge possibility I would throw up before getting the results. I knocked on the door to the ultrasound room.

“I’m here to get my ultrasound results,” I told the sonographer.

“Name please,” he said.

“Caballar.”

The sonographer shuffled through files and found mine. He asked me to sign on a logbook then handed me the results. I could feel my heart beating strongly against my chest. I wondered if he could hear it.

My hands were shaking as I scanned the sheet and found the words “possibly benign.” I cried as relief washed over me.

I called Ric and told him. I could hear the relief in his voice.

“I’m so happy we received good news,” he said.

“We?” I said.

“Yes, we,” he said, matter-of-factly.

Then it hit me. I wasn’t alone in this. He too was going through worry. He too was going through fear.

I’ve always thought of myself as a strong, independent woman. I have a stable job that allows me to pay my share of the bills. I have my own set of friends. I have the freedom to make my own decisions and pursue my own interests. I can go through medical procedures alone.

I wanted to go through the procedure alone to prove that I can still be independent even after marriage. I was afraid of breaking down in front of my husband and showing him how vulnerable I felt. But isn’t that the purpose of marriage? To let go of your own strength and allow your partner to be strong sometimes? Or better yet, to combine your strengths?

The cancer scare showed me I can still be my own person, but I’ve also got a partner who’s promised to share my burdens, and to whom I’ve promised the same. For life.

Rina Diane Caballar is a writer based in the Philippines. She has previously written for CityLab, Roads & Kingdoms, and The Toast, among other outlets. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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