Wedding Graduates Return: Nancy & Sean

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

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  • Anonymous

    This post is perfect. It is everything I wish I had heard before we got engaged.

    It is also hitting close to home for other reasons that I am not ready to mention (even anonymously) so in short THANK YOU for this post.

    Also – I think it is brilliant that you have kept mostly positive and found your path. You guys rock.

  • Amy March

    The post just makes me want to rage- correct that- IS making me rage- because health insurance should pay for egg harvesting and semen storage for people who may want to have children in the future!!!!!

    • My first reaction was whhhhhhhaaaaaaat… how can insurance not cover that?

      Regardless… it’s very inspiring and refreshing your perspective on children (and the whole situation)

      • Kris

        It’s horrendously expensive… and egg storage is a tricky science at best still… and health insurance is just that, health insurance, not family insurance. (Trust me, I know I sound cold saying that, but it’s coming from someone who has had to come to terms with the fact that she can’t have hers stored, either.) It sucks but insurance is a business and fertility is still a controversial topic. In many cases, surrogacy isn’t covered either – definitely not on the intended parents’ coverage, but often not on the carrier mother’s plan either, which also, frankly, sucks balls. They do their best to make sure having a child is a heinously expensive prospect if you can’t just get knocked up the old fashioned fun way like everyone else!

        • “They do their best to make sure having a child is a heinously expensive prospect if you can’t just get knocked up the old fashioned fun way like everyone else!”


          (For me, “amen” is more powerful than “exactly” and what you said has become a soapbox of mine of late.)

    • Nancy

      Nancy here. Seriously. Apparently they will pay for some-thing (tbd) if in fact chemo made me infertile, but nothing preventative. I extrapolate that to all that is wrong with health care – prevention is cheaper, people! But now I’ve changed insurance companies so I’m sure that consolation might be gone too. Boo.

  • LPC

    What a fantastic, authentic, heart-strengthening post.

  • Well APW you have gone and done it again, making me EMOTIONAL and teary at my desk two mornings in a row.

    Without touching on the more serious topics of your post – there are so many and I fear I wouldn’t do it justice – I really like your point to not disparage your spouse in front of others. My Husband Elect and I are both naturally teasing people. But you’re so right in that it’s okay to eliminate that sort of humor if it means taking care of your partner’s feelings first. Thank you for that, and for writing this.

    Oh man it is real dusty in this office. Sniffle.

    • Me too. I have a friend and her husband who put that idea right into their vows when they got married over 10 years ago now. I remember being pretty blown away by that at the time, and since then too. I respect this sort of intentionality of prioritizing the relationship like Sean and Nancy are doing.

    • I just have to laugh at “husband-elect.” The poli sci major in me loves that!

      • Heh. We live in the DC area and I am determined to make it popular! Please make this a part of your lexicon! Husband and Wife Elects for all!

    • Class of 1980

      That point jumped out at me also. “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.”

      Marriage therapists always say a key sign of relationship failure is showing contempt for the other person. No one thrives in an atmosphere of contempt and sometimes it’s done via “humor”.

      Now if you’re teasing them for something they do that’s adorable, that’s a different thing altogether! ;)

      • Susie

        Absolutely, this message was the kick in the arse I was needing! I’m off to apologise for being a brat to my poor hubby! Thanks for the perspective ladies… :)

    • msditz

      That was maybe my favorite part too. I think that is a huge problem these days. I feel like society expects it from me sometimes. Like, now that I’m married I should be talking about “the old ball and chain”. And I have to admit, sometimes it is the easy way out to just have some line, “oh yeah you know him and HIS cooking, har-de-har-har”. Its almost more awkward to talk about my great love for my husband in front of others, which is…weird. And wrong. It shouldn’t be that way. So thank you for being deliberate about that. And of course, for the awesome post altogether.

  • mimi

    I just went back and read your Grad post and your wedding was beautiful! So glad to hear that you’re doing well and best of luck for the future!

  • I just re-read your wedding grad post and then this, and– thank you. Thank you for sharing. I wish you and your husband all good things.

  • Thanks for updating us. I had been wondering how you guys were doing too. Wishing you all the best in the coming 70 years!

  • “marriage is about saying you’re wrong when you know you are right”

    this is very wise.

    • That was my favorite part too. :) Sean and Nancy – wishing you another 70 years of wedded wisdom and happiness.

  • cartascartas

    I predict a happy ending for you guys too. :)

    Very wise words about not disparaging your spouse in front of others–we also have that rule. United front against the world, always. No inviting others to criticize/hurt by making it seem ok.

  • LOVE LOVE LOVE This post!*

  • Cass

    I remember your wedding grad post and I’m happy to see you’re doing better now. I especially agree with your point about priotizing your relationship and your health. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from dealing with chronic health issues, it’s that my marriage is the most important. Making decisions that generally put us first pays off in the long run.

    And regarding health, I tell everyone I love (or even just like) to please please please take care of themselves for their own sake. Health is wealth in so many different ways.

    • Laura Mc

      Amen to that! If you don’t have your health, you have nothing. I know from experience as a chronically ill person. All the more reason to take advantage of the days that you feel good or the times that disease is in remission.

  • Liz

    I vividly remember my dad telling me when I was 11 or 12, “your mother is the most important person in the world to me.” It had no baring on his love or devotion for me and my brother just a simple recognition that his marriage made him better. I really respect that.

    This statement, coupled with Nancy’s advice in point one, totally drive home, for me, the importance of nuturing the base. Thanks Nancy and all the best to you and Sean!

    • meg


    • The only time we truly ever got in trouble with Dad was when we disrespected Mom. He would not stand for that. And I love him for that.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    Loved the last 2 paragraphs!

  • I love this – it’s the perfect advice. When we were doing our premarital counseling, our minister said a lot of smart things, but one of them was similar to this. He said to always put your spouse’s best interests first. It’s a win-win in some ways, b/c you’ll both get to be better people knowing the other person always looking out for you. :)

  • Such wonderful lessons. The best part about the first one is when they put you first in return.

  • Ugggh this post is so darn RIGHT. I want to exactly the whole thing like 50 times.

    And I need to staple a post-it to my hand about saying you’re wrong when you know you’re right. Because I am. Always right. It’s a real problem.

  • Nancy

    Thank you guys for all the wonderful feedback!

  • natalie

    beautiful. incredible. amazing. thank you for sharing this today. what a beautiful and inspiring couple. I am grateful to have heard your story — thank you for your courage

  • Phillipa

    “We’ll have each other, that’s for sure. And, if kids don’t work out, that will be enough.”

    This is a brave statement to make, and an issue I am wrestling with myself. My husband (we were married on Jan 7, 2012) was diagnosed with a “life-limiting” brain tumour on November 16 last year. He had surgery to remove as much of the tumour as possible on Nov 18 and returned home from hospital on Dec 2. Intensive treatment began on Jan 4 (yes, three days before our wedding) and will finish today (yay!). This gave us very little time to mull over the whole fertility issue before the treatment started. It was recommended that we freeze some sperm and decided to pursue this option. Easier said than done. Physically, things weren’t working as they should since the surgery (the area of his brain affected by the tumour related to his motor control and sensation) which meant a fair amount of frustration and distress for us both. Thankfully, the fertility clinic we went through were able to set up the surgical removal of some sperm (enough for a few goes at IVF) just days before his treatment began.

    So, a few thousand dollars later, and we now have a back-up plan frozen up the road. (Coincidentally, the fertility clinic is on the same street as us. We wave as we go past!) This was an immense relief to me; the thought of possibly having a child together gave me some hope for a very uncertain future. But I’m grappling with the idea of even trying for a child when my husband needs (and thoroughly deserves) most of my attention, and when we don’t know what the next year will hold.

    It’s highly unlikely that we’ll get 70 years, and while the ending might not be happy, we’re trying to make the journey as positive as possible.

    Thank you for sharing your story Nancy and I wish you a long and healthy life with your wonderful husband.

    • Nancy

      Phillipa – I can’t imagine what you’re going through. Life-limiting cancer is an animal that I don’t think I could have dealt with. I wish you guys awesome success in treatment and onward.

      I remember being (and sometimes still) so angry about the baby industrial complex and how expensive everything was, but also at how much pressure I felt to make sure I could be a mom. The feminist in me really battles my baby brain there. When I say that having Sean will be enough, I really hope it’s true. But you’ve given me another perspective – that I would be comforted to have Sean’s child if I didn’t have him. That’s very hard to think about, so I will stop now.

      I wish you guys too long and healthy lives.

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