Reality Intruded – Part 1: Marriage, Divorce and Cancer

When I left my marriage three years and two months ago to begin my life as a gay man I tried to build a well of good will with my wife and her family. I attended family events like Thanksgiving; tried to make sure that money questions did not become divisive; and made sure that I never spoke badly to my son about his mom. 

I also tried to rebuild my relationship with my wife, which was left in tatters when I first left the marriage. As much as is humanly possible, I succeeded. But I also wanted to move on with my life. I have been dating a wonderful man for a year and nine months and we both think and talk about making our relationship more permanent, starting with living together. 

Next week my wife and I had planned to start mediation for divorce. We had met the week before at my house, in what was to be one of three meetings, and had a deep, thoughtful, honest conversation about what we wanted and needed. I was very hopeful about the process. Then reality intruded and changed everything.

Last Friday morning at 5:20 AM my cell phone rang. It did not actually ring, because my iPhone was in Do Not Disturb mode, but my iPad, which happened to be in front of me, and had been set up to ring with my iPhone calls, vibrated. It was my wife. I knew something had to be wrong for her to call me that early in the morning and I immediately thought of my son and her aging parents. I answered the iPad and held the speakers up to my ear so I could hear. “I’m in the emergency room at the hospital. I came in last night with a sharp pain in my abdomen and they took a CAT Scan and discovered a 7 cm mass. I’m very frightened.”  

At that moment I knew that divorce was off the table for the short term, and perhaps for a very long time. I also knew, given our twenty-six-year relationship, that divorce did not matter right now and that I needed to do whatever I could to support her. “I’ll be there shortly”, I said and rushed to shower and dress.

I found her in the emergency room, in one of those little ER treatment rooms. The lights were out and the curtain was drawn across the door. She lay on a hospital bed looking exhausted and frightened. My sister-in-law had taken her to the hospital and stayed with her all night, but had gone home to take care of her own children and get ready for work. 

My wife had been admitted to the hospital and was waiting for someone to come with a wheelchair and take her to her room the ‘Acute’ floor. When I saw how distressed and scared she was, I knew I would be there all day until we exhausted whatever medical tests, decisions, and doctor conversations that had to occur. Work suddenly seems unimportant. I arrived at the hospital shortly before 6:00 AM and did not leave until after 6:00 PM that evening. 

That day we went through many ups and downs. We asked many questions. We laughed and cried together. Her parents came mid-morning and stayed with her all day. Later her brother came for a few hours. That afternoon they took her down for a needle biopsy of the mass and toward the end of the day an oncologist, called in by the hospitalist, came to discuss her case. We tried to formulate an action plan for what had to happen next, at least at a high level, since the results of the needle biopsy would not be known for a few days.

What we knew leaving the hospital on Sunday was that they believed the mass was most likely attached to her kidney or her adrenal gland. Today I called the oncologist to ask a few questions. One thing that had bothered me since we left the hospital was that we had an MRI done on Sunday morning and had blood work done for different cancer markers. What were the results of those tests and did they show where the mass was attached to. 

I wanted to go online and read about the type of tumor she had so I could be prepared for our appointment with the oncologist on Friday morning. The doctor surprised me. He said that believed, with about a 90% probability, that it was not attached to the kidney or adrenal gland but was liposarcoma, a tumor of the soft tissue. He also said it was definitely cancer. The PET scan, my wife would have tomorrow morning would confirm his diagnosis and also see if had metastasized, spread to other organs. He had a top surgeon in mind, whose name he gave me.

My wife is afraid to read anything about tumors and cancer until she meets with the oncologist on Friday. She is just trying to keep her spirits up, so the research falls to me and her brother. I have been reading what I can find online and listening to podcasts on the way to work for the past two days. I will now begin to learn about liposarcomas. 

This is not the life I thought I would be living this week, but the way I am supporting my wife feels right. There is still a deep bond between us that is hard to describe. I do not want to stay married to her and would like to be able to move on with my life. But I also do not want her to die. I do not want my son, who is still in college, to lose his mother this young.

There is a deep friendship and intimacy that comes after so many years of marriage. I know she trusts me to help guide and support her through this illness. If I was sick I would feel the same way towards her. She knows I have a good deal of medical knowledge, although not about cancer, and that I am a good listener and interpreter with doctors. That said, I have a new life with a new partner. It is emotionally challenging and at the same time, I know I am doing the right thing in how I am supporting her. 

Yes, reality intruded in my plans, and all I can do right now is ‘go with the flow’. I am not angry or bitter. It is what it is, and I know I need to support my wife through this difficult journey as best I can. I also know I need to take care of my relationship with my partner and make sure that in supporting my wife, I am not ignoring or hurting our relationship. I am trying to navigate this new reality with care and thought.

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