I get so many questions from women who are fighting breast cancer, or who have come through the other side, wondering what happens now?
Have we lost intimacy? Will our marriage survive?
I’ve watched many friends, my sister-in-law, and even my mother walk through breast cancer. And over this last year I’ve watched my friend Ann Mainse from afar (well, from Facebook) as she highlighted the struggles she was facing, with her husband Ron by her side.
I’ve known Ann for many years. I sat on the couch with her a few times on 100 Huntley Street, where she used to host (she’s on the far left; I’m second to the right). And I’ve shared the stage with her at different events.
But most of all, I know Ann as someone who has tried to dedicate her life to pursuing Christ and showing others what healthy relationships look like. She and Ron run an amazing marriage ministry and co-host the TV show A Better Us.
Ann’s recently written “Coffee with Him“, a very raw and honest series of devotionals for women walking through painful times, whether it’s cancer or miscarriages or betrayals or even COVID, and I invited her to share some thoughts about her cancer fight and her marriage with us today.
Like a diamond, there are so many facets to marriage.
On your wedding day, whether they were revealed or not, you committed to them all.
The intricate cuts. The light-bending angles. The minute imperfections.
Some of its colours are rainbow vibrant and others are storm-cloud gray. But no matter the hues, they all come together to form the larger picture of a beautifully flawed masterpiece-in-the-making.
And that’s how it should be.
It’s what we committed to at the altar.
But what happens when some outside force steps in and threatens to alter the colours of what the two of you are creating? To change the picture?
What happens when one of you gets cancer?
One month before our 35th wedding anniversary, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And immediately my life changed.
But not in the way you might think.
It was as if someone had suddenly placed a clarifying filter on the picture of my life. One that sharpened the hazy spots and enhanced the dimmer colours.
It was a filter that, for me, redefined intimacy.
For many of us, the word intimacy conjures up what we would consider the ultimate intimate act… sex. And rightly so. Sex is a beautiful expression of a deep and lasting commitment. And let’s face it, it’s fun!
The problem comes when we use sex to define our primary form of intimacy.
For true intimacy isn’t so much an action as it is an attitude. It’s a mindset that sees the deepest part of our spouse and in turn offers the deepest part of ourself.
It’s risky. It’s breath-stealing. It’s glorious.
And to borrow from C.S. Lewis, that kind of deeper intimacy is “the love on which the engine of marriage is run.”
That’s not to diminish our need for a passionate, physical connection. It’s just to put that expression into proper perspective.
And sometimes it takes something like cancer to remind us of that.
True intimacy: wild passion, yes… but tender moments too.
And the latter was made crystal clear to me while I was going through three months of chemotherapy…
As you can imagine, chemo took its toll on my body.
I experienced ALL of the side-effects. From extreme nausea… to debilitating fatigue… to diminished appetite… to total hair loss. And that last one was the worst.
As women, our hair is a huge part of how we present ourselves. It’s the first focus of our “look.” For some, rightfully or not, it represents identity. For me, it’s what my husband, Ron, said he first noticed about me. The beautiful 18-year-old blonde.
And now that identity was gone.
When the chemo caused my hair to fall out, I went completely bald. Completely. Shiny-skin bald. A devastating, daily humbling reality. One I had to come to terms with.
Over the course of those months of treatments, quite often Ron would lead me to a comfy chair and gently massage my scalp with lotion. It felt wonderful.
But that’s not all. Ron would then do something even more special.
Without fail, to end the massage, he would tenderly kiss that shiny skin and then whisper the words, “I love this beautiful head.”
That is intimacy.
There are times in the making of the masterpiece of your marriage that you’re forced to blend the colours. The definition between light and dark gets blurred, and you do your best to bring beauty out of the chaos.
During those times, you need to remember something. Don’t be afraid of the process.
Don’t be afraid to confront the hard times, and in the process redefine what you hold most dear in your relationship.
Don’t be afraid to trudge through unfamiliar territory together, sharing the same step, protecting the same heart.
Don’t be afraid of the process.
For if you let it, this process will reveal a depth in what you’re creating that transcends any surface beauty.
And you will go deeper together.
And you will be closer than ever.
Such is the case with intimacy.
Such is the case with love.
“To love and to cherish…
For better or worse…
For richer or poorer…
In sickness and in health…”
Coffee with Him is a 31-day devotional for anyone going through a difficult journey, as everyone faces unexpected bumps in the road, whether it be a health issue, a relationship breakdown, financial struggles or something else. As she openly details the trials and triumphs, fears and tears from her own experience fighting cancer, Mainse invites readers facing the tough twists and turns of everyday life to receive comfort, courage, hope and healing from God.
Have you ever known an even deeper level of intimacy with your spouse through trials? Or have you walked through breast cancer? Let’s talk in the comments!