Fathom Mag
Article

“I married a cancer survivor.”

Surrendering our fears and entering into a partnership

Published on:
May 1, 2018
Read time:
3 min.
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Run. Bolt before he dies and leaves you heartbroken. My friend didn’t hold back her opinion when I told her about the cancer-surviving man I met in an elevator. Just days before, the elevator man and I had become Facebook friends. While scrolling through his profile pictures, I hesitated as I saw a white sash draped over his shoulder. The sash read survivor.

The cute boy I met in the elevator had survived cancer. 

Survivor.

In my brain, the word made my stomach knot and my forehead sweat. He survived cancer, and I should celebrate him and be happy for him. But, instead of celebration, thoughts of death knocked on my mind. 

Maybe I should run now while I have the chance?

When Concern Isn’t Support

From the title of this article, you know I never bolted. I thank God I never listened to my friend’s poor advice. My marriage is God’s blessing to me. Yet, every time I chat with a new friend over coffee or introduce my husband and share his cancer story, I deal with the same reactions.

“I’m not sure if you know this, but my husband survived cancer.” 

Their eyes practically bulge out of their sockets.

“Two-time survivor actually.”

Then proceeds a list of FAQs. 

Yes, my husband survived cancer. Twice. First in his lungs and then in his brain.

Yes, this happened at a young age. Eighteen years old and then nineteen years old.

Yes, he endured surgery, chemo, and radiation.

Yes, I married him and I’d gladly do it again.

“Aren’t you afraid?” they ask.

Nothing I say seems to convince them to relax their raised eyebrows. I appreciate their concern for my husband’s health, but sometimes concern fails to lend support. 

Having an “Us” Mindset

Apparently, my decision contradicts most. The Journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found that childhood cancer survivors are twenty to twenty-five percent less likely to marry compared with their siblings and the American population.

In addition to the stats, thousands of online forums overflow with people asking if they should date and marry cancer survivors. Misconceptions and social stigma force people to reject cancer survivors as possible spouses. My husband Zack shared with me that during his junior year of college, girls would express interest in dating him, but when they found out he previously had cancer, that interest evaporated. Imagine living through a life-threatening illness to then have your heart broken because of the memory of it. But I’m glad. My gain. 

These kinds of studies point out an interesting fact about how our culture defines marriage. We place marriage in the category labeled “self-fulfillment.” The question we should ask ourselves is do we believe that God created marriage for our personal gain? If so, then yes, you should bolt from any cancer survivors. 

As Christians, we believe that God created marriage as a selfless partnership for man and woman in pursuit of Christ. With this belief, husband and wife express an “us” mindset instead of a “me” mindset. Having an “us” mindset allowed me to surrender my fears and enter into a partnership with my spouse.

What defines you?

I often forget that he survived cancer. I only remember a few times a year—yearly scans and at the Cycle for Survival, a fundraiser for rare cancers. Some days, I feel guilty for not worrying more, as if my “wife job description” includes worrying daily about his health.

Yes, my husband survived cancer, but cancer does not define him. My husband loves and follows Christ. Jesus defines him. My husband shares his story to minister to others affected by cancer. Are you interested in dating a person who has cancer? I think you should date them. Should you marry the cancer survivor you love? I vote yes.

Joy Pedrow Skarka
Joy Pedrow Skarka loves creating spaces to bring women freedom. She is a doctoral student at Dallas Theological Seminary studying women’s ministry, sexuality, and shame. You can see more of her work at joypedrow.com or tweet at her @JoyPedrow.

Cover image by Scott Webb.

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