Holding hands
4 min read | Jul 2020

Why I’m Glad My Husband Has Terminal Cancer

As her marriage was falling apart, a woman's husband got a diagnosis that made them closer than ever before.

Tinkerbell / Millennial / Progressive / Writer

When my husband and I said our vows on a sunny day seven years ago—"I do, for better for worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part”—neither of us had any idea what that would actually look like.

I guess we expected challenges along the way, but we still naively thought we would grow old together, sitting on a park bench reminiscing about our long lives, surrounded by scores of giggling grandchildren.

Yet in the summer of 2018, it all seemed to be crashing down around us. We struggled to communicate, sat in counseling and couldn't see sticking to our vows long enough to finish out the year. We could barely remember why we wanted to marry each other in the first place, let alone muster the connection to honor the vows that seemed so important the day we said them.

That all changed the day my husband got diagnosed with terminal cancer.

The Diagnosis Paralyzed Me

I always thought he would get cancer. His family history, poor diet and lack of exercise predisposed him to it and, to be honest, I always thought I would feel resentful if he did—frustrated that he hadn't taken any steps to prevent it or change his life's course.

But when those fateful words came tumbling out, when he told me the tumor was too large to operate on and the cancer had already spread around his body, I didn't feel that at all.

At first, I felt completely paralyzed. You can't divorce someone with terminal cancer, can you? Is this what my life was going to look like now—married to someone I wasn't sure I even liked anymore, bound by duty to do the right thing?


Then I Felt Love

But after the initial wave of shock, denial and fear passed, I suddenly felt consumed with a completely different emotion: love. All I wanted to do was hold him close, protect him and honor those words we spoke to each other with such hope, in more innocent times.

It wasn't out of a sense of duty or guilt, despite the rocky state of our marriage and my initial internal conflict. It was because, in that moment as the news settled, none of those things that had seen our relationship unravel mattered anymore. When you are suddenly faced with losing someone, so many things seem trivial, laughable almost. I saw the man I chose to marry and the qualities I had so adored were still there, shining through all the new talk of scans and survival rates.

I grieved for our lost future, and for our past—the simplicity that we had wasted away while we didn't realize what lay ahead. But as my mind raced through the “what ifs” and “should have beens,” it eventually crept back to the right now and everything we had to be grateful for.

Unfortunately, this isn't a magical tale of how we saw the light, conquered cancer and lived happily ever after. The reality is that his cancer will be terminal. It's currently being controlled by very strong medication, but it's already spread to multiple organs and there's nothing the doctors can do to give this story a happy ending.

Much Good Has Come of His Illness

Yet, although I would never wish this on my husband, or anyone else, there is a part of me that is glad he got cancer. I realize that is a shocking thing to admit, especially for someone who has never been through the rollercoaster of emotions a cancer diagnosis brings. And yes, I know, it's also entirely selfish. It's not me that is enduring the grueling treatment or having to face up to my own mortality.

But, you see, this devastating diagnosis means that, at least temporarily, I've got him back. We've got each other back. We have been given a second chance that many people never get, to focus on what is important, rediscover the little things in life and appreciate each other in a new light

So would I write the story differently? The power of hindsight is a beautiful thing, isn't it? It would be lovely to think we would have had an epiphany and worked to make our marriage stronger. But I doubt that is the case. By now we would probably be divorced, forging new lives apart. Perhaps they would have been lovely lives, but when our story got a twist in its tale it led us to a place that I couldn't foresee.

It's a happy, loving, mindful place, where we make the most of right now, as we know it's all we might have. Perhaps, you might say, that's because I have a way out now, I know it's not forever. I can see why you would think that, and I've considered it myself too. But I know that's not the case.

I'm immensely sad that we can't rewrite the future and the thought of losing him makes my heart ache. When you suddenly realize what you want has been right there in front of you all along, it's even more soul-destroying to know it's going to be taken away.

So, am I glad he's going to die? Of course not. Am I glad it took a terminal diagnosis to make us come to our senses? No. But am I glad my husband got terminal cancer? Selfishly, knowingly and for better or worse: Yes, I am.

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