What Cancer Has Given Me
I suppose that title is a little misleading. Cancer is a monster that takes and kills. Any gift from my encounter with this malevolent force came from surviving it, not some benevolent offering. Still, the old adage of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” couldn’t be more powerfully expressed than in the lives of those who survive cancer.
The most difficult post I have written
This is the most difficult blog I’ve ever written. Actually, it’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. I’ll have to get my wife’s blessing before I can post it. You will see why as you read on. To fully explain, I’ll need to lay out some blunt truths. What follows is not exaggeration or bragging, nor are the other parts an exercise in self-flagellation.
Sexuality and self-image
I am average in male endowment. What I did have was unusual stamina. I never had one of those, “This never happens,” moments until well into my 40s. More than once, I’ve had a partner just tell me it was time to quit. I took pride in this, and frankly, it had a large place in my self-image as a man. But the candle that burns brightest burns fastest, and by my 50s I began to experience some issues with ED (erectile dysfunction).
I felt like I was failing as a man
Wow. I love those clinical terms. They sound so benign. “Erectile dysfunction.” Nothing like “Can’t keep it up,” or “Impotence.” This was a serious blow to my ego. I felt like I was failing as a man. I’d been married for more than 20 years at the time of this first occurrence. I’ve written many times about what an incredible woman my wife is. She is so far out of my league that I can’t believe she was even aware of my existence, much less that she would agree to spend her life with me. But she did.
Gender roles in our relationship
We adopted very traditional gender roles in our marriage. She has ended more than one discussion on relative responsibilities with the statement, “You’re the man.” And I was, because she inspired me to “be the man.” I was her man. Though she also worked and made significant contributions to our joint incomes, I was the main provider. I was the protector. Yes, I killed the spiders, but there was also a time in our lives when we were in serious peril. She put herself in my hands and trusted that I would get us through. And for her sake, I did.
I felt like I was failing my wife
I looked like a big, strong guy. But in truth, all of my strength came from her. She was/is my anchor. She is the thing that gives me the courage, strength, and determination to stand my ground when times get tough. And now, in this most intimate way, I was failing her.
The impact of ED on my marriage
This was difficult, and early on, she mistook this physical failing as a lack of devotion. That almost tore my heart out. I couldn’t stand the thought that she doubted my love for her. And it made me feel even less of a man than the impotence. If I couldn’t show her how much I worshiped her, then what good was I?
Then, I was diagnosed with aggressive bladder cancer
Then, the cancer came. For a time, we both thought it was pretty much over. My chances didn’t look good, and we both faced the prospect that our life together was at its end. That sure put things in a different perspective. We desperately clung to each other, and her strength got me through. But not without cost. The same surgery that saved me also put an end to any pretense at physical intimacy. That is when we discovered the true depths of our love. We have become a single thing. I am now happily half of a whole. The Bible expresses it as, “and the two shall become one flesh.” (Mark 10:8) And so it is. It is the greatest gift in my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Intimacy goes beyond sex
Don’t get me wrong. Sex was great, and I miss it. But I wouldn’t trade that for what I have now. For all that cancer took from me, it gave me an appreciation for what I still have.
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