Love is Evergreen

This past Wednesday hubby Steve and I celebrated the eight-year anniversary of the date we first met. Well, met in person. We were introduced via our mutual friend Steve Roberts through Facebook about a week before that, and we traded a few messages and became Facebook friends (the app happily reminded me) on February 21st. Both of us had had enough experience with online dating to know we should go ahead and meet in person before we spent too much time creating (potentially inaccurate) images in our minds of the other. We each had some travel obligations from work approaching, too, so we wasted no time and set up a brunch date at local eatery Rockfish for a Sunday afternoon. We talked for several hours in the restaurant, then continued the conversation in the February sunshine outside the coffee shop next door for another. The rest, as they say, is history.

There’s a bit more to the story–it’s kind of a fun one–but I’ve told it before and better elsewhere, so if you’re curious, you can read it here on my previous blog, Forty-Something First-Time Bride.

Preparing to toast our day-we-met anniversary

With this post I want to give a shout-out to my wonderful husband, who is my friend, my love, my partner, daily hugger, and caregiver. He didn’t sign up for a marriage marked by cancer anymore than I did, and he has stood by me and been my rock through good days and bad. I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten through without him by my side. A lot of people tell me how strong I am (arguable, but that’s a subject for another day), but Steve–he is my evergreen, tall and strong and steady, a sheltering force in all seasons.

Celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary at the beach

Despite the challenges we’ve faced, the wonderful times we’ve shared have been richly plentiful–beautiful hikes in the nearby mountains, live music festivals with friends, travel to amazing destinations ranging from Staunton, Virginia to the Isle of Skye, Scotland. He has faithfully delivered me to a beach somewhere every year we’ve been married (a promise he put in his wedding vows, of his own volition), and patiently allowed me to bring home a passel of shells every time. We’ve laughed and cried and loved and lost and survived home renovations.

Today, I celebrate my honey Steve. We toasted our meeting-anniversary on Wednesday evening with a carryout-wine-and-chocolate tasting from local winery Amrhein’s and Floyd chocolatier Cocoa Mia. We’d technically bought it for Valentine’s Day, but since we were already feasting on raspberry-chocolate towers courtesy of Steve’s arranging a takeout gourmet dinner for us then, we held the pairings for our anniversary.

Cocoa Mia’s delectable offerings

With each wine-and-chocolate pairing, we added a third element: we took turns recalling a happy memory from our lives together. Perhaps a brunch would have been more appropriate, given our first date, but the beauty is that whatever we’re feeding ourselves, we still enjoy talking for hours. The winning wine-and-chocolate pairing was a Traminette with a Rose Cardamom Butter Cream, which was divine. The memories were all winners, and they inspired us to think about some pandemic-friendly outings we can plan to create new ones.

So, here’s to my honey, Steve. I’m a lucky gal. He’s a catch, and I know it every single day.

Here’s to the Husbands and Partners

caregiverOn October 31st, 2016, then-President Barack Obama made a Presidential Proclamation declaring November “National Family Caregivers Month,” honoring “those who give of themselves to be there for their family, friends, and neighbors in challenging times.” At the time, I missed the announcement, still in a pretty pronounced post-chemo fog of pain and fatigue. And I was especially distracted that week: on November 1st, I was scheduled for a post-chemo mammogram and ultrasound, followed by an appointment with my oncologic surgeon to review the results of the scans, which would tell us whether or not chemo had been effective. November 1st was also hubby Steve’s birthday. When we’d met with the oncologic surgeon pre-chemo to talk scans, the news had been tough, so we’d held off scheduling any birthday festivities for the evening, just in case.

Though anxious, we were hopeful, and thankfully, the news was good. Still, I felt guilty, filling Steve’s birthday with yet another set of medical appointments. He’d been right by my side for most every single doctor’s visit or test since June, whether surgical consultation or CT scan or hours-long chemotherapy treatment. Going to the doctor isn’t much fun even when it’s your own body you’re trying to heal, and a sterile medical office with outdated magazines definitely does not scream “birthday party.”

My Sweetie Pi
My Sweetie Pi

In his proclamation, the former President lauded the “incredible generosity” of family caregivers, a description that itself seems almost not generous enough for the reality of spouses and partners of women with breast cancer. Along with accompanying me to appointments, Steve has driven me to offices and errands near and far, waited patiently, lent a second ear, helped me manage the information overload. He’s taken on the bulk of the household chores. He’s held me when I needed to cry; he makes jokes so I don’t forget to laugh. He’s encouraged me to take naps and go on walks, and he’s fetched my prescriptions and the occasional Coca-Cola Icee whenever I craved one. After surgery, when I was especially unsteady, I took over his bathroom because the shower there was easier to get in and out of. Meanwhile, he slept on a mattress on the bedroom floor for a month because I needed to keep the head of the bed elevated to prevent tangling my drains.

And speaking of drains, he gently, and diligently, stripped my JP drain tubes each morning and evening, without batting an eye, kneeling by the bedside, eye level with my bruised, scarred, and misshapen chest. Seeing my altered landscape must have been weird for him; I mean, it was, and is, weird for me. Yet Steve has never let on that he’s bothered by the changes in my body. (Okay, he admitted he was a little grossed out by the stringy chicken-fat-like gunk that occasionally showed up in my drains, but—so was I. Major yuck.)

I think it’s safe to say Steve has gone above and beyond. Seriously: this is a man who let me demonstrate the discomfort of my tissue expanders by allowing me to reach around his chest from behind, grab his pecs, and squeeze as hard as I could.

Maybe once you’ve made your vows and declared “for better or worse, in sickness and in health,” it’s just expected that you’ll be fully present for your partner in a medical crisis. But I don’t think a spouse’s ability to be a good caregiver is a given, and I don’t take my husband’s compassion or support for granted.

Obama opened his proclamation honoring family caregivers with the observation that “[o]ur nation was founded on the fundamental idea that we all do better when we look out for one another.” And so we do. So here’s to all the husbands and partners, who drive us to appointments and do all the dishes; who listen and lift up; who help us grow comfortable—physically and emotionally—with our changing bodies; who stand beside us through the tough times.

Artist & Scientist
Artist & Scientist

Steve recently marched by my side in our local Women’s March. He identifies as a socially liberal, fiscal conservative, while I am (I took a test) left of the Dalai Lama. He does support a majority of the March’s official platform, but we hold different enough views that when we discuss politics, we often find ourselves baffled and frustrated by the other’s perspective. Still, we listen, and we learn. We don’t expect we’ll come to consensus about every issue, and we don’t make consensus a precondition for civility or respect, and certainly not love. I knew, when we found each other, that what we’d found was rare. After traveling through cancerland together, I understand that truth even more deeply. And after watching the world in the past week, I understand, and value it, more deeply still.

Radiation begins on Monday. Steve still helps me into my coat every day. And until my range of motion improves enough for me to put it on by myself, I know he’ll be there, holding it open and sliding it over my shoulders, ensuring I stay warm and protected through the long winter’s chill.