We Didn’t Know Beans About Cancer

This past Valentine’s Day, my sweetheart and I made a date to dine at our favorite restaurant. And even though we specifically said there’d be no gifts, before we left for dinner, Jack very proudly handed me one anyway. I eagerly flipped open the box to reveal a stunning set of heart-shaped earrings and a necklace. And after all we’ve been through together, I felt so grateful that we were celebrating our sixth Valentine’s Day.

To catch you up, I’ve known Jack since we were kids. There’s actually a longer story there, but for our purposes today, this particular one starts on October 31, 2011, the day I got the breast cancer call. I have to admit that when I started writing about this, it opened the floodgate. Transported right back to that unusually hot Texas October afternoon, I remember picking up the call on my way home from work, and upon hearing the news, feeling fear like I’d never felt before. I’m sure you can picture yourself wherever you were, too, when you heard those dreadful words. Those moments will be forever etched into our memories, I’m afraid.

So, in the weeks since our dinner, I’ve found myself reflecting on our relationship, not because Jack is so thoughtful on Valentine’s Day — although that’s true — but because this is not an ordinary relationship. It’s the one that weathered my breast cancer diagnosis, my subsequent treatment, and the last 5 years of my survivorship.

Immediately thrown into crisis mode, and within days of that phone call, Jack and I were at each other’s throats. Probably not what you expected me to say right off the bat, right? My emotions were acutely sensitive, almost like my nerves were exposed, and with all the stress of a diagnosis–the poking and the prodding going on at all my appointments — my moods were swinging. Jack’s were too. And to be perfectly honest, we’re both pretty embarrassed about our initial reactions in those early days because in a heated moment, and under emotional duress, we ended our relationship during my breast cancer battle.

We broke up. Just like that.

So, obviously, you know that we got back together and everything turned out for the best. I’m not trying to leave you with any kind of cliffhanger, or I wouldn’t have started out this blog the way I did. We were probably one week in when we had the worst fight ever. Desperate to get rid of my cancer, I’d bought a crapload of books telling me what to eat, and believe me, I was all-in. Looking back, I think changing my eating and trying to help myself holistically gave me some sense of control over what was happening because I didn’t know a lot about breast cancer back then, and I was scared I was going to die. I’d read that certain vegetables were healing, and I quickly eliminated many of the foods I’d been eating that were known cancer-causers.

This particular day, I opened the freezer to retrieve the cancer healing beans I’d stored, only to find them missing. When I realized they weren’t there, I flipped out! Turns out, Jack “borrowed” some of my medicinal cancer beans. And it spawned a meltdown like you can’t even imagine. Jack, stressed out because I had cancer too, wasn’t receptive to my meltdown. He did not console me, but instead, he flipped out too. There we were, two crazy, panicked people falling apart in our kitchen. Over beans? At the time, yes, it seemed the beans were the culprit, but now we realize, of course, that it was so much more.

We separated for the duration of my treatment, and over the course of the next months, we continued to talk, continued to retreat, and quite honestly, went back and forth with this “cancer dance” until my treatment was over. Jack couldn’t understand where I was coming from, and I couldn’t grasp his feelings either. And why would we? We were experiencing very different things. From where we stand now, and after looking back on these cancer shenanigans, we are both truly grateful that there’s even still an “us.”

Neither of us had any idea we’d be here today, stronger than ever or even willing to discuss the sordid details. I’ve been trying to write this for weeks actually, but each time I’ve sat down to collect my thoughts, I’ve not gotten very far. I guess it’s hard to put our relationship out there on blast. But I am because maybe some of you are experiencing the same thing. If not with your significant other, with your family members or even friends. Cancer is a very complicated illness with layers so deep that you’ll be peeling them back for years. I’m here to tell you that cancer did some pretty strange psychological things to me, and to Jack, and my other survivor friends will tell you that that they’ve been through the emotional wringer too. It’s okay if you don’t handle it perfectly. We certainly didn’t. And in certain instances, it might be worth considering an extension of grace to some people who may have hurt you. Many of the people I felt abandoned by simply were not equipped to deal with their feelings. Jack and I embraced in the same kitchen months later, asking each other for forgiveness. And it began our path to true healing.

We’ve both asked ourselves a hundred times why we acted so erratic during my stint with cancer. Let me assure you, the beans were just the tip of the iceberg, but this blog is not long enough, guys! We’ve determined that the severity of the situation, quite frankly, just freaked us out. At the time, I believed I was the only one experiencing it. But when I’m assessing the situation 5 years later, I also realize that an incredible amount of change had been thrown both our ways. Was my cancer localized? Had it spread already? Would I recover? Lose my breasts? Have chemo? Radiation? I never stopped to consider that these things also impacted Jack. Furthermore, he couldn’t help me because he couldn’t process it himself. Much later, only after we reached a place where we could both discuss it, I learned that he’d had a traumatic experience with cancer when he was much younger. The ONLY experience, actually, and one of his best friends had died as a result. Jack revealed that he thought I might die, too. Suddenly his reactions to my actions made sense. Today we are stronger than ever. And while we’re not grateful for cancer, we are grateful for the bond it developed between us.

Whatever your experiences are, or have been in the past, I’m sending you positive vibes!

Victorious Val