I still remember standing at the altar on our wedding day, grape vines behind us, blue sky above us, friends and family surrounding us; best friends ready to embark upon a beautiful life together. I remember grinning uncontrollably as I repeated my wedding vows, looking deeply into Scott’s eyes, trying to absorb every moment, to etch it into my memory. “In sickness and in health.” There was no way I could have understood the depth and meaning behind those simple words on that beautiful May afternoon in 2004. I said them because that is what you say when you marry someone, when you love someone deeply, when you choose to spend your lives together. At that moment, I couldn’t have fathomed that seven years later, those words would come to symbolize what true love and commitment means to me.
After our wedding day, Scott and I went through the typical ups and downs of newlywed life. Learning to live with the idiosyncrasies and quirks of one another was challenging, but we (mostly) made it through with humor and laughter. After the birth of our first daughter in 2006, our relationship catapulted to a new level. I grew to love Scott even more as I watched the bond that developed between a dad and his little girl. He was a very involved father, despite the fact that he was still in a demanding anesthesia residency program. Watching Clara smile at him and squeal with delight when we would look out the window and see him walking down the hill from UCSF, was priceless. That love only grew with the birth of our second daughter in 2008. The “in health” part of life couldn’t have been sweeter for us. I like to think that we truly appreciated each moment; I know we tried to be present as much as you can when life is comprised of the chaos that is raising two young children.
And then life changed for us. Scott was at work the day I went into the doctor to get my lump checked. I didn’t even consider asking him to take the day off as I was operating under the assumption that “it was probably nothing.” When a breast ultrasound led to a mammogram, which led to an immediate breast biopsy, it became apparent that this lump was highly suspect. I felt like I was in a fog as I walked from room to room. When I finally found my voice again, I looked at the radiologist and asked, “What are we thinking here?” She looked me straight in the eye and responded, “We strongly suspect that this could be cancer.” Cancer. The weight of that word crushed me. It felt like my world had exploded.
A bilateral mastectomy took me out of commission for weeks. While my body slowly healed, Scott took care of everything else. He ran the house, took care of the girls and dealt with all of the day-to-day needs of the family. Again, our relationship was taken to a new level as we mourned our life “before cancer.” Amidst the fear and stress, I always felt support from Scott. He took on the role of caregiver in addition to his previous roles of husband and friend. I cannot express how grateful I am for that and how much it helped in my recovery process. I never doubted that Scott would be there for me, and that provided me with immeasurable comfort on my darkest days.
About a month after my surgery, I wrote a journal entry that sums up my thoughts on Scott’s support: “I am thankful for my husband. Not only has his medical expertise provided me with an invaluable medical advocate through this journey, but his love and support have literally kept me going. I never wanted to go through the “in sickness” portion of our vows so early in our marriage (and in life), but knowing that I will be loved without breasts and without hair takes away some of that fear of the unknown. Knowing that we are going through this together – that I am not alone – somehow makes everything more bearable. Knowing that the pain and anxiety that we are going through currently is going to give us more time together in the future makes it worth bearing now, tenfold.”
When we vowed to love and stand by each other “in sickness and in health” on that beautiful, clear May afternoon, I never realized how much those words would mean to me. Going through “in sickness” with Scott showed me that love isn’t symbolized by hearts or cards or flowers or chocolates, but rather by sharing laughter as Scott shaved my head, or holding hands as I sat in a recliner being infused with chemo, or hugging tightly after those elevated liver enzymes came back normal. That is love, and I’m so grateful to have found it.