Cancer is hard on a marriage. The demands of the disease can strain, stretched, and even shatter the closest couples. On the other hand, cancer can make your marriage better, drawing you closer to your beloved. It could even save your marriage. I know because I’ve been there. Here are three matrimony miracles every cancer couple should consider.
This past weekend my wife Amy and I joyfully celebrated our twenty third anniversary. We travelled out of town for a long weekend together, just the two of us. During that time, I reflected on the changes we experienced as a couple, from my perspective, since my diagnosis with stage four lung cancer on September 1, 2017. In my book, How Cancer Cured Me, I have written about many of our experiences as a couple and the ways cancer strengthened our marriage, perhaps even saved it. As I look back, here are three of the biggest and most important changes I see.
1. Making Peace
As a pastor, I presided over countless weddings, and concluded most of them with these words of blessing over the happy couple, “May your home be a haven of peace.”
When cancer stormed into oir life, our marriage seemed to me to be anything other than a haven of peace. It felt more like the movie "Twister." Amy and I were arguing a lot. I was angry often. Every little thing became a big storm.
When cancer came barreling over the horizon, like a Cat 5 monster storm, it made all our tornados look like pipe smoke. I figured it would finish us off. Instead, it stopped me in my tracks. In almost no time, I knew the time had finally come to stop fighting each other.
Cancer checked me and my complaints —big time.
There was NO time for this boundless bickering. We had to lock hands, unite, and fight cancer --not each other. Together we had to get ready, gather all our supplies, batten down the hatches, and focus on cancer. Our kids were depending on us.
In those early days of the disease, I learned among other things, the need to stop being angry and start forgiving. I addition to forgiving the seemingly big stuff, I needed to forgive the hundred little daily offenses. To quote Disney’s “Frozen,” I really needed to “let it go.”
As I did, the storms began to subside and our marriage became more of a “haven of peace” than a “tornado alley.” My long, dark night of contempt gave way to the bright daylight of love.
Today as I look back and continue striving to be slower to anger and quicker to forgive (James 1:19, NIV), I hear Jesus’ words as affirmation and encouragement.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9, NIV).
2. Appreciating More
When my doctors said, “You have cancer,” Amy was there at my side. She stayed with me, cared for me and fought for my life. I distinctly remember one night, lying in bed, and thinking, There’s no one else I would want with me right now more than Amy. Day after day, she prover her love to me, and I felt grateful. I felt thankful, too, for what she had done for me in the past 20 years, everything from giving birth to my 3 amazing kids to picking up Chick-Fil-A. Still, the cancer experience took my appreciation to a much deeper level. I recalled the creation narrative, specifically God creating Eve. “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to live alone. I will make a suitable companion to help him.’" (Genesis 2:18, Good News) It was an epiphany, a powerful, and much-needed vision of the truth. God created Amy, made her and entrusted her to me, to be my wife, partner, and friend. The reminder to see Amy as a gift from God, took my appreciation to a very deep level.
I could hear again, yet in a new way, the words of the wisdom writer: “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies” (Provers 31:10).
3. Loving Better
Finally, I like to say cancer made me a better lover. Hah! Not in that sense. In the sense that love is a verb. It is something you do. After my diagnosis, I started actively, intentionally loving Amy. I wanted to love her better." In "The Five Love Languages," Gary Chapman's excellent book, he teaches that each person best receives love in one of five ways: acts of service, physical touch, gifts, quality times, or words of affirmation. In addition to feeling love for someone, we must do the work and act accordingly. I had read, preached, and taught Chapman's material for years and believed in it. I knew Amy's love language was acts of service, and how much everything I did to help her meant, from unloading the dishwater to repainting our bedroom. My taking out the trash was super sexy! My cancer diagnosis revealed that I had been slacking off a little, well, truthfully a lot. Once I committed myself to being more forgiving and appreciative, I got to work on loving Amy. I am reminded of these words spoken to explain Jesus' washing of his disciples' feet. "Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love" (John 13:1, NIV). Even now I'm finding that, I am striving to love better. Bring me my phone, please. Would you grab my purse? Hold this, please. The bushes need trimming. The house needs pressure washing. By the grace of God, I can hear all of these requests and others not as demands but as invitations to show Amy my love.
I could give multitude of examples of how God used cancer to strengthen our marriage. In How Cancer Cured Me, I share many of them. Of course, I am, and we are, a work in progress. I look forward to the ways God will surely continue to bless our marriage.
How Cancer Cured Me will be available August 25, 2020. You can find out more at www.davidgira.com.
Discussion Question: How has your marriage or other significant relationship been positively impacted as a result of your cancer? Or perhaps, how would you like your marriage to grow during your cancer experience?
During my cancer journey, here are a few love songs that really touched me.
Bless the Broken Road by Rascal Flatts https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-vZlrBYLSU
Speechless by Dan & Shay https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0GmM4usSRk
Love will keep Us Together by Captain & Tennille https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QNEf9oGw8o