I’ve been waiting for today’s post for almost two years. No joke. Nancy and Sean got married right after Nancy was diagnosed with breast cancer. She wrote about their heart-wrenchingly beautiful small and simple wedding, and Nancy predicted a happy ending. Now Nancy is back (and her hair has even grown back, into an adorable pixie). She’s sharing all the lessons she learned about marriage while surviving breast cancer. And we’re all totally allowed to cheat and learn from them. Also, we’re totally allowed to pour ourselves a mimosa, and cheer Nancy, Sean, survival, and joy! CHEERS! CHEERS! CHEERS!
Hello APW! Sean and Nancy here, reporting from 1.75 years of marriage. Man, our wedding was awesome. It still chokes me up to this day. And so does our marriage. I feel so damn lucky to have Sean. More and more I think that we were made for each other, and I’m so happy to spend the rest of my life with him.
Now, we cheated a bit. Breast cancer defined much of our engagement and much of the last 1.75 years. Having cancer, for me, was like getting hit by a truck. Physically, it hurt, but it was also an emotional punch that made us think a lot about what is important and how we want to live the rest of our (hopefully long, long) lives.
So, with retrospect, here’s what I’ve learned since we got married:
Sean is number one. This is hard, because I am selfish. But he’s my husband and I know that he has to be the number one priority in my life. This is not only because of the guilt for all the things (sometimes pretty gross things) he did for me during my cancer treatments, but also because I love him and I want to show him that. I also think this sort of idea is at the heart of a good marriage. Like I joke with my friends, I think marriage is about saying you’re wrong when you know you are right.
But more, our marriage is about just two people: us. So, we have to prioritize our relationship and protect it from everyone and everything else. This means that we’ve made a pact not to disparage our spouse in front of others. That eliminates some of our easiest humor, but it makes sure that the other doesn’t feel bad. We try to put the other’s needs first and make them feel good. We try to make each other better too—to eat right and exercise, etc. (That’s my second life lesson: prioritize your health over everything else, ’cause if you don’t have that, you’ll miss everything else.)
It’s cool, I think, that our wedding reflected this idea. That day was just ours. It was super-small and immediate-family-only, so we really just hung out with each other, and didn’t have to spend the whole time talking to relatives we never see or our parents’ friends. Also, we didn’t go into massive debt trying to throw a party for other people. That’s nice. If you’re engaged and thinking for ten seconds about a small wedding—I say do it. Down with the WIC and everyone who makes you think that napkins and your special cocktail are more important than your future spouse, cause they aren’t. I do wish we could have thrown a low-key party for our friends on our first anniversary like we wanted to, but we’re still saving up for that.
The last thing about this lesson is the other c-word: children. We don’t know if we can have children. Chemo might have killed that possibility, and my insurance didn’t cover egg-harvesting, so we are flying blind in that area. I’m also on medicine for five years (four years now) that I cannot get pregnant on, so I’ll be 34 before we can try, which is kinda late once you’ve bombarded your ovaries with killer chemicals. Sean wants children, and so do I, but he says he wants me more. So, maybe we’ll adopt. Maybe we won’t. We’ll have each other, that’s for sure. And, if kids don’t work out, that will be enough.
I won’t say our marriage is easy all the time. Despite my cancer lessons, there are definitely days when we want to punch each other for things we did or didn’t do, or did or didn’t say. I need to work on telling Sean what I want and how I feel, and he needs to work on saying he’s wrong when he knows he’s right. We’re pretty on task with money, in that we know we spend too much, but we have separate accounts so there’s no blaming anyone else. We have a pretty fair division of home-labor—he cooks, I clean.
As a whole, we are happy just being with each other, and I can feel our love deepening as time goes on. I have great hopes for us and our future when we don’t worry about anything, but I am patient and happy taking our time getting there. I still predict a happy ending, hopefully 70 years from now.
Photos by: Nancy & Sean’s personal collection