What is Cancer Good For? Volume 1: Confirmation that I Married Exceptionally Well

football pic

This is a love letter to my husband, really.

I met Nate in 2003, when we were mutually traveling to cheer on the Hawkeyes at the Orange Bowl. Nate was traveling with one of my best friends from high school, who was no his roommate as they both worked in politics in Des Moines at the time. I was traveling with my brother.

I was initially a skeptic. I often am. I actually wasn’t interested in dating. I can’t really remember why, or if there was really a why, but I had sworn to be single.

Nate had other ideas.

He was right.


From the first time I met Nate, his genuine warmth, profound kindness, bright mind, shared passions and his easy nature made him good company. All of this is still true.

In addition, he was, and still is a gentleman.


I can remember him buying me a drink at our hotel bar in Fort Lauderdale.

I can remember him asking if it was acceptable to kiss me.

His thoughtfulness has not waned in our years of marriage.


We had a lovely courtship, filled with the busyness of campaigning, enjoying our early 20’s with ease, including a frenetic work and play pace. We were easy mates.

We’ve been married for thirteen years. They’ve been filled with many joys, successes and plenty of happiness. We are genuinely the best of friends. Our company is easy, we like to spend time together and we also are both very happy independent of one another.


Then, this whole cancer bit.

Nothing prepares you for being a good spouse to someone who has cancer.

Someone who is losing her right breast.

Someone who is going through chemotherapy.

Nothing. Prepares. You.


We started seeing a therapist together. Not because we have a troubled marriage, but because each of us was able to acknowledge we have absolutely no idea how to deal with my health crisis, and that we wanted to do it together. It’s not that we have struggled to be honest with each other, but our current situation is awfully unique, and collectively, we needed help to be who we need to be for one another. Nate didn’t flinch. When I said I needed a therapist, he said he did, too, so we go. Together.


While I have struggled with feeling ashamed, the sense I’ve absolutely failed at living – Nate has gently, but in a stalwart fashion came alongside me, and has provided the gentle pillar of strength that lifts me through my self-loathing and sadness. I can tell him the truth about how I’m feeling, he validates my feelings and still finds a way to tug me along.


He doesn’t look at me with any less affection or interest. And folks, I’m bald and one-boobed. His love is as one might hope and pray your spouses might be, without prerequisites. If anything, I sense he both loves and appreciates me more deeply.


I was always the do-er in the house.

Laundry. Most cleaning (ok, we also pay someone), most meal prep and clean up. Most bathing of our kids. Scheduling. Planning.

Now I feel disgusted with myself as I hold down the couch on my days following chemo, and ask him to do the things that were my tasks.

He does them with a sense of humor, and with no resentment.


He’s always been protective of me, which might amuse some of you.

Most of you know, I really don’t need anyone to protect me.

However, is sentiments reflect the depth of his loyalty and affection for me.
He tries to deflect the well-meaning people who want to “help” in our crisis.
He tries to absorb the unwanted attention and to save me from sadness and suffering.
He’s noble, truly.


His love is unique and deeply spiritual.

I say this after much thought and reflection, and I’ve been able to appreciate his unique devotion and love for several months now as we endure my health crisis.


Be it from a Christian perspective:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7)


Or the teaching of the Buddhists about Karuna, which roughly translates to compassion. Buddhists teach that to have true love, you must have the desire to, and ability to ease the pain of others, and one can only do that by understanding their suffering.

This would be easy to avoid.

To really get into the trenches, and to unpack both my spiritual and physical pain in a way to completely understand, take on and try to alleviate is a tremendous undertaking.

Nate is devoted to understanding and trying to alleviate my suffering, thus, taking on suffering himself.


When Nate bought me a drink at the hotel bar in Fort Lauderdale in December 2003, there is no way that he knew what he’d be called upon to do as a spouse of someone enduring cancer treatment.

And for all of the reasons I initially fell in love with Nate, the process of going through this treatment with Nate at my side has immeasurably deepened both my gratitude and love for my partner. I married exceptionally well. For this, I am profoundly grateful.

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