Every October I always reflect back on the time I was first diagnosed with cancer. During the nine months of treatment, I kept a journal. As I read the journal every year, there is one entry I love to read over and over again. Last February, I shared this article with our newspaper in a contest they were holding for stories of love and commitment. It was exciting to have my story selected and once again, I want to share it with you.
On our wedding day, my husband spoke beautiful words to me as he shared the vows he had written for our special day.
“I pledge myself to you alone with a devotion that shall increase as we pass together through sorrow and joy, through darkness and sunlight.”
As I listened to his words and saw the love expressed in his eyes, my thoughts were more about the joy and sunlight we would experience together than on any time of sorrow or darkness.
For 18 years we experienced a lot of joy and sunlight. We rejoiced together as our children graduated, married, presented us with grandchildren. Then, suddenly, we faced the darkness as I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After the surgery which removed my left breast and almost all of the lymph nodes under my left arm, the surgeon told me the cancer had been very advanced and aggressive. He made arrangements for me to see an oncologist who told me “the odds are not in your favor.” I would need 16 chemotherapy treatments and over 30 radiation treatments. He basically told us to enjoy the days we had, because he did not think I would survive.
Now my husband’s promise to me that his devotion would increase through sorrow and darkness faced a hard test. Words are easily spoken. This valley would test the truth of those words.
Two days after the surgery, the time came to remove the bandages. How I dreaded that moment! I was confident in my husband’s love for me and I knew that he would stand by me and would say the right things. But I also knew that after all these years of marriage he would not be able to hide the truth from me. His eyes would reflect how he really felt as he looked at my deformed body.
Lovingly he helped me remove the bandages. Glancing down at the area where my left breast used to be, tears immediately filled my eyes. The left side of my chest looked caved in, as if I was hit by a big Mack truck. A bright red scar ran from the center of my chest across and under my left arm. Large staples held the scar together. There were plastic tubes under my arm with fluid draining into two small bags. It was unpleasant to say the least!
Slowly, with tears in my eyes, I glanced up at my husband. He smiled at me and his words are forever engraved in my heart. “You are still beautiful to me,” he said. Clearly those were the right words to say. What is priceless to me, however, was the look in his eyes. There was no hint of aversion, no sign of any disgust. His eyes reflected the love I had seen on our wedding day 18 years before. But, there was much more there now. The love on our wedding day had been love of expectancy for what was to come. This love had much more depth. It was love coming from 18 years of shared experiences, love that had found all it had anticipated to have been satisfied. There was a tenderness and compassion in those eyes that said, “I’m here. I’ll keep my vow.”
After removing the bandages and getting a shower, I was exhausted. He helped me get into the new bath robe he had bought for me to wear while I recovered from the surgery. It was silky on the outside with lace trim across the top, but had a soft and warm fleece lining. He picked a color that everyone said looks good on me – a light aqua. How thoughtful this gift was. The soft fleece lining was so comfortable, but the lace trimming made it look very feminine.
As he helped me back to bed, I looked once again in his eyes. He smiled at me and I knew I was still loved and beautiful in his eyes. I knew those words spoken to me 18 years ago were more than just words. They were the true feelings of this wonderful man I call my husband.