Cancer: Love and loss

With love in the air and roses on sale for $25 per dozen and Valentine’s Day looming up ahead, this question:

Would you still marry your spouse if you knew you would walk beside him/her with aching heart as they endured cancer treatment; loss of appetite, loss of weight; became childlike before taking a final breath sooner — oh, so much sooner — than you had imagined? Would you still marry?

Of course you would. Because the sweet years with your husband, your wife would be worth the pain of loss.


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But here’s an even more important question for those who have lost love—whether spouse, child or friend—to cancer or disease, or to sudden death; for those who have isolated themselves because of a diagnosis:

If you knew your heart could shatter further than it already has, would you risk being vulnerable again?

It takes courage — this stepping off the edge falling, falling into community and people and love again. Is the risk worth it?

Yes. yes. most. definitely.

This from Brené Brown:

Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.

So, what could it look like to give your heart away — to an individual, a group, someone in need — and find joy again? In no particular order, here are 6 possibilities:

1. Feed your intellect and spirit. Join a study group — a book club, a Bible study. Or audit a class. The key is not to slip away from a meeting or class without a word to the others who share your same intellectual or spiritual interests. Risk speaking up and introducing yourself; risk asking someone if they’d like to have coffee next week after class.

2. Nurture your creative side. Gather a group of girlfriends, women with whom you can bare your soul. Meet regularly over knitting, crafting, quilting. I’m part of a knitting posse — *knitwits* as Hubby liked to call us. It’s therapeutic sitting around a table in a fire-lit café creating a fuzzy thing of warmth and beauty while listening to the soothing sound of women’s voices. Incredibly therapeutic.

3. Nourish your body. Consider starting a diner’s club featuring healthful options. Meet once a month at alternating houses and exchange recipes. And hopes and dreams. Which would make this so much more than just a body-nourishing activity.

4. Incorporate movement with relationship. Hook up with a walking group that meets for coffee or lunch afterward. And when you’re feeling braver and stronger, try hiking or snow-shoeing. Or commit to a bowling league for a season. Or take up pickle ball. But most importantly, pay attention to your fellow physical-activity-ists.

5. Cherish children, the elderly, the homeless. Opening your heart to someone in need carries so much reward that it’s almost a selfish thing to do (kidding). I recently took on volunteer work at the newly-opened Shepherd’s House women’s and children shelter in my hometown. Gratifying stuff.

This from the Pulitzer-prize-winning-husband-wife team of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in their book, A Path Appears:

Participating in a cause larger than yourself … creates a sense of fulfillment, gets us out of bed in the morning with a bounce in our step, and helps make a difference in the lives of others—even as it affirms a purpose for our own lives on earth.

6. Connect with others who understand your journey. When Hubby was diagnosed, he wasn’t interested in sitting in a circle with other men discussing cancer woes. A year and a half later, we discovered survivorship programs that included monthly education/dinner meetings, cancer camp, hiking. And later, as Hubby was slipping away, this community was present to catch my plummeting heart.

The loss of my husband is more acutely felt around Valentine’s Day, Mother’s and Father’s Days, our anniversary, Christmas. Which is to be expected.

And yet …

And yet my widowed life is full. Full, as in, peaceful, joyful, purposeful, community-full.

Because I determined a while back to stay connected. To try new things. Make new friends. To serve those who don’t have it as good as I do.

And this full life is exactly what Hubby would want for me.

How about you? Are you cautious about  joining community, about loving again? Figure out why, and then beat down fear and give your heart away again.

P.S. If you found this blog helpful or inspirational, please share, tweet or pin!


What we learned about a cancer diet on our way to living better


10 ways cancer enhanced our love story


  1. Sharon Berbert

    Quite a surprise to find an answer to my prayer on my e-mail this morning. I know it’s not an accident, but I didn’t expect it so soon. Truth is, while my spirit is crying out for a new community and purpose, my body is asking me to stay here in my comfort zone. It has all kinds of excuses: it’s arthritis, fibromyalgia, sleep problems etc… So I have ideas about volunteer work, I intend to explore, groups to check out( I too love the right women’s group; I’ve been apart of many). I’ll let you know how I’m doing; thanks for sharing, Marlys.


    • And don’t forget the book you’re going to write! Sounds like you have a long, full life ahead, Sharon! Good for you for considering the options in your new location and community.

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