September 15, 2009

Has Illness Wrecked Your Relationship?


Grass is always greener on the married side of the cancer fence.  Or is it?  Here’s a quote from Katie Smith, who I interviewed while researching Everything Changes:

“I learned about my diagnosis in the recovery room after waking up from an operation and learning they had done a hysterectomy.  The first thing I thought was ‘What is my husband going to think of me now?,’ because we had been trying to get pregnant.

“I started seeing differences in how he acted with me.  We weren’t getting along.  We still wanted kids and he really wanted surrogacy.  It was hard for me to think about our kid being half him and half from another woman.  I wanted to adopt so it would feel equal. We talked a lot about it.  I signed up for an adoption class but he never showed up to class.  I was so mad sitting there by myself.  That was a big sign to me that he wasn’t that interested. Our marriage broke up two months later.”

I hear so many stories about the single cancer patient who finally falls in love (yep, I’m one of them too.)  But what about people for whom cancer crumbles a relationship?  Did you know that the divorce rate for terminal cancer patients is higher than the national average?

I know from experience that being single with cancer can suck, but I think that having cancer in an unloving or unstable relationship must be equally if not more challenging.  A lot of relationships that are already on the rocks sometimes just cannot sustain the emotional, financial, sexual, and fertility stress of cancer.

Some studies show that older couples often weather the marital stresses of cancer better, and that young couples are more likely to divorce in cancer situations than older couples.  Why?  When you’ve been with someone for decades you learn how they respond to stress.  Many older couples have already had kids.  They also have different expectations about what needs to happen when you jump in the sack.  Not always so for us young ones.

I’m curious to know, has illness made an impact on your relationships?  Has it taught you something about your partner you didn’t already know?  If your relationship ended during illness, was there any sense of relief that came along with the stress or sadness?

Learn more about cancer marriage and divorce from HollyAnna, Tracy, and Sheila in Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.

11/11/09 – I wanted to give a quick update to this post.  A study just out shows that a woman is six times more likely to be separated or divorced soon after her cancer diagnosis than if the man in the relationship is the patient.  Wow.  The rate when the woman was the patient was 20.8 percent compared to 2.9 percent when the man was the patient. It also shows that the longer the marriage, the less chance of divorce after a diagnosis.

The study, “Gender Disparity in the Rate of Partner Abandonment in Patients with Serious Medical Illness,” was published in the Nov. 15 issue of the journal Cancer. The other corresponding author is Michael Glanz, M.D., of the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

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August 21, 2009

Adapting to Early Menopause


Here she is again, continuing on from Wednesday’s post – the amazing 36 year old ovarian cancer patient from Philly guest blogging about early menopause – Emily Beck.

The Dark Side of the Moon

I am not mystically inclined.  I love The Lord of the Rings as much as the next person, but I have never been a druid (one of my friends in middle school claimed that she was), a sun worshiper or a witch (a college roommate was most assuredly one of these.)  But one of the hardest things to adjust to about menopause has been losing my connection to the cycles of the moon.

For some people it’s probably hard to imagine missing anything about menstruating.  (No more cramps?  No more PMS?  No more tampons? Where do I sign?!?)  But cancer robs us of so much that we take for granted, and for those of us who are sent into either surgically or chemo-induced early menopause, it takes away the primary way in which most of us feel connected to the rhythms of our body, the hormonal cycles we often curse, but which define so much of what it means to be a woman.

In the year-plus before I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I was trying to get pregnant.  I had begun the tedious (but fascinating) process of taking my basal body temperature and paying somewhat pathologically close attention to the nature of my vaginal discharge.   Charts and notes related to my menstrual cycle piled up on my night table.  I was peeing on ovulation detectors in the bathroom at my office, and rushing home to demand sex on the appropriate day.  I was, to put it mildly, in tune with my body.

After my hysterectomy, it was as though the tuner connected to my hormonal cycles broadcast nothing but static.  Without the signs to which I had grown accustomed (tender breasts, the changing texture of my discharge, and of course the thrills of a monthly period), I suddenly felt unmoored – disconnected from my woman-ness, and from the cycles of nature (the moon, the tide) that I had always associated with my monthly hormonal evolution.

I remember distinctly a stretch of time, probably during college, when the first day of my period continually fell on the same day as the full moon.  Suddenly, I had a new sense of the ways in which my body and the experience of being a woman connected me with nature.  It was pretty damn cool.

Now, over a year and a half post-hysterectomy, I am still searching for new ways to feel connected to the earth and to stay aware of my body’s rhythms.  The patterns are new, but the goal is the same:  to stay in touch with the physical essence of being a woman.

Have you gone through early menopause?  Does it make you feel like you are missing part of your womanhood?  How have you adapted?  Any tips of suggestions?

Check out It Girl, a chapter in Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s, in which Mary Ann talks about feeling the loss of what she always considered to be her womanhood.

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May 17, 2009

Grey’s Anatomy: Fact or Fiction?


Disclaimer: I live under a rock, don’t own a TV, and have never read a print copy of USA Today.  I’m pretty okay with all three statements.

Kudos to Grey’s Anatomy for: showing young adult cancer along with family and fertility issues, illustrating melanoma as a serious deadly disease, and revealing that advanced cancers do not have a quick fix solutions but involve super challenging choices between two evils with no guarantee for favorable results… if you are lucky.

But, damn Grey’s for not getting it right.  An article in USA Today says Izzie’s options not accurate: surgery, with memory loss as a side effect, or interleukin-2.  American Cancer Society confirmed that IL-2 is never recommended for melanoma brain mets because it can cause bleeding and strokes.

Grey’s consults with MDs, so why can’t they get it right?  Are they just dialing up the drama on the storyline?  I’ve been living with cancer for nine years and there is plenty of drama to go around with my story just from the very accurate and real life details.

Does Grey’s do more harm than good with this storyline?  Good: It spurs discussion and awareness.  This article highlights one of my all time favorite orgs, Planet Cancer, and quotes JT, one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.

But consider this quote from Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer at ACS: “Many people view the cancer problem as much simpler than it actually is. That’s because they get their medical information from television shows. But television shows are by and large fictional, and much of the medical information there is also going to be fictional.”

Do you watch Grey’s?  Does the storyline do more harm than good?  What does it say that instead of covering healthcare policy, a major American newspaper is covering the TV coverage of a fictional cancer patient?  And have I just lowered my standards by blogging about a USA Today article?

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