Relationships

On cancer, rolling over, and the Divine Plan of marriage

A love letter to the husband who noticed something small and hopeful

I accomplished something today, and my husband of almost 20 years noticed it.

“You’re lying on your back,” he said.

“Yes,” I said, looking up at him.

I’d had cancer surgery a month before, and for the whole time after that I could only lie on my left side.

My husband’s observation, and the fact that he voiced it, is an illustration of true love—in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad. He’d been watching me, waiting for any little improvement, and now he had seen it.

All I can say is that I am glad I decided to marry this man.

In 1994, I was living with my mother. I was unemployed and recently diagnosed with bipolar illness. I was down on my luck.

This is not to say that things had never gone my way. I’d managed to pull off three degrees in Creative Writing — one from The Writer’s Workshop at The University of Iowa. I’d had a story pulled from the slush pile at the famous Paris Review, something that I’ve heard very rarely happens. I was an experienced writing teacher at the college level. I had a wonderful family and many good friends.

But in 1994, I had, at least by the world’s standards, nothing. Acquiring a mental illness does that to you.

Enter Steve.

My brother Bob introduced us. Steve and Bob worked together as engineers, and when Bob first told me about Steve, he said “This is the most normal guy I’ve ever met.”

At that point, I needed a little normal.

Steve and I decided to meet at Applebee’s. I remember he ordered trout. He was from Rhode Island, and he loved fish. I had a Caesar chicken salad with extra dressing.

We laughed and talked and got along well. He was five years my junior. I loved how he smiled, like a little kid. I loved how he asked me questions, interviewing me almost. That date was the best one I’d ever had.

I went home, woke up my mother and said “I’ve met the man I’m going to marry.”

That knowledge, that prescience was what I’d call a religious experience. I believe that God had given me this foresight. And three years later in a church in Kent, Ohio, we married.

Steve had been brought up Catholic, just like me. He went to church every week and lived a good life. As a child, I would learn, his mother had taken him to the Stations of the Cross during Lent. This impressed me.

I would only know later of his true belief in God. During my cancer surgery on June 10, 2016, he sat in the waiting room with my brother openly praying the rosary with him. They said the prayers out loud together, one of them starting a prayer and the other one finishing it. My husband is a shy man; he doesn’t to call attention to himself. For him to do this, to pray openly to God in a public place, took true faith. And I’m sure their prayers pulled me through.

We don’t have a lot of certainty in life, but one thing I know is that Steve and I were meant to be together. It was part of a divine plan.

And we were meant to adopt our son Tommy from Guatemala.

We were meant to be a family.

God doesn’t always give us an easy life, but sometimes he gives us helpers.

Yes, last night I could finally sleep on my back. The pain had subsided enough that I could switch positions.

My true love noticed this. And he was happy for me. For that little relief from a big pain, the pain of cancer. I am so blessed to be part of this sacrament of marriage.

At this point, I don’t know what the future holds for me. I know they got clean margins during my last surgery; they “got it all,” in other words, but I still have to have a CT scan to ascertain whether or not the cancer has spread throughout my body.

I have to admit, I’m scared, but I know that my dear husband will stand with me through it all.

In sickness and in health. In good times and in bad.

Thank you, Jesus, for giving us marriage.

And thank you for giving me Steve.

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Laura Yeager

Laura Yeager’s religious essays have appeared at Aleteia.org, The Liguorian magazine, Canticle magazine, BustHalo.com, Guideposts magazine and writersweekly.com. She also regularly writes blog posts about mental health for PsychCentral.com. Laura teaches writing at Kent State University and online Creative Writing at Gotham Writers’ Workshop in New York. She’s a graduate of the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa.