“Run. Bolt before he dies and leaves you heartbroken,” a friend said as I told her about the cancer-surviving man I met in an elevator. Just days before, he and I had become Facebook friends. While scrolling through his profile pictures, I hesitated as I saw the white sash draped over his shoulder.
Not just any white sash, but one that read Survivor.
I discovered that the cute boy I met in the elevator had survived cancer. I thought, Maybe I should run now while I have the chance!
In my brain, the word created feelings of fear and uncertainty, not happiness and celebration. He survived cancer, and I should celebrate him with praise. But instead of praise, thoughts of death plagued my mind.
I must admit, it took years for my celebrating to start. From the title of this article, you know I never bolted. And I thank God I never listened to my friend’s poor advice. God blessed me with my husband. Yet, every time I chat with a new friend over coffee or introduce my husband and share his cancer story, I deal with the same reactions.
“I’m not sure if you know this, but my husband survived cancer,” I share.
“What?” they say as their eyes practically bulge out of their sockets.
“Two-time survivor actually.”
Then proceeds a list of FAQs. Allow me to answer all of your questions:
Yes, my husband survived cancer. Twice. First in his lungs and then in his brain.
Yes, this happened at a young age — 18 years old and then 19 years old.
Yes, he endured surgery, chemo and radiation.
Yes, I married him. And I’d do it again.
“Aren’t you afraid?” they ask.
I answer, “Well, I could die tomorrow in a car accident …”
Nothing seems to convince them or remove the look of shock from their faces. I appreciate their concern for my husband’s health, but sometimes concern fails to lend support.
Apparently, my decision contradicts most. The journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found that childhood cancer survivors are 20-25 percent less likely to marry compared with their siblings and the American population.
In addition to the stats, thousands of online forums overflow with people asking if they should date and marry cancer survivors. Misconceptions and social stigma force people to reject cancer survivors as their spouses. My husband, Zack, shared with me that during his junior year of college, girls would express interest in dating him, but when they found out he previously had cancer, that interest evaporated. Imagine living through a life-threatening illness only to have your heart broken by women who fear you could still succumb to cancer. Although, personally, I praise God that all of those girls said no, because I got to say yes. Their loss.
So, should someone run away after hearing the word survivor? To truthfully answer this question, we need to define the point of marriage. Do you believe that God created marriage for your personal gain? If so, then yes, you should bolt. Or do you believe that God created marriage for a greater purpose?
As Christians, we believe that God created marriage as a selfless partnership for man and woman in pursuit of Christ. With this belief, husband and wife express an “us” mindset instead of a “me” mindset. Having an “us” mindset allowed me to surrender my fears and enter into a partnership with my husband.
I often forget that he survived cancer. I only remember a few times a year — yearly scans and at the Cycle for Survival, a fundraiser for rare cancers. Some days, I feel guilty for not worrying more, as if my “wife job description” includes worrying daily about his health; however, I know that on the days that I do worry, I can cast all my anxiety on God (1 Peter 5:7).
Yes, my husband survived cancer, but cancer does not define him. My husband loves and follows Christ. Jesus defines him. My husband shares his story to minister to others affected by cancer. Should you marry a cancer survivor? I vote yes.
Joy Pedrow Skarka loves creating spaces to bring women freedom. She is a doctoral student at Dallas Theological Seminary studying women’s ministry, sexuality and shame. You can see more of her work at joypedrow.com.