break-up after breast cancer, breast cancer, Cancer Kitten, Cathleen Kenney, Cathy Kenney, DCIS, DFCI, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, relationship loss and breast cancer, young woman with breast cancer
I feel like I need to say this again: I write knowing fully well that there are two sides to every story (or really, three sides: the truth tends to stand somewhere in the middle). In my last blog post, I tried to paint a picture of how happy and in love I was with Bing – that we both were with each other – before my cancer diagnosis. After the Big C, it’s difficult to go back and relive all of the moments that he really just couldn’t show up emotionally, so I will finish by hitting the “high” points, or more aptly, the “low” points in our relationship.
In late July, Bing’s parents came to our farm for a visit. It was a few days before I left for Boston for surgery, and they had come at that time in part to help care for the farm while I was recovering and Bing was working/flying. There were lots of old friends and dogs at the house when he returned from a trip. He was fairly livid that I didn’t have some sort of dinner game-plan. I told him to heat up a hot dog (it was July afterall). I didn’t live that down for weeks.
I ended up turning on some serious waterworks, screaming and yelling and crying at him a day or so later, saying that I don’t think he knows what it feels like to go through this, and that he wasn’t being understanding enough. I remember sitting on the floor of the laundry room crying and folding laundry while he watched me after that episode. Typically when I become mad, I get quiet, think about what it is I want to say and then say it. Typically. I do expect that on the occasion when I lose my marbles, that I will be forgiven. Part of the irony of life is that those persons closer to us are lucky enough to see all of our beautiful moments, and in return, bear the burden of also witnessing our weakest. I KNOW I am far from perfect, but I don’t expect perfection from anyone. I did expect a hug and some love for what I was going through, even if I didn’t heat up the hot dogs. I can only imagine what was going through his head.
That minor Chernobyl meltdown happened around the time I was going for my final “real” hair cut in Steamboat, too. I was near tears walking into the salon but held my head high and made it through the experience (although I didn’t buy any hair product that trip). Unfortunately to add sadness to an already tense situation, when I returned home from my hair cut, my favorite chicken Sapphire had been attacked and killed by a domestic dog. Another reminder to me of the fragility of life, and how much life can change in an instant. I was of course already feeling particularly vulnerable and sad, so this just added insult to injury.
That laundry room blow-up, as far as I know, led to Bing’s statement on July 23, 2012, in the car on the ride home from Logan airport the night before my surgery, that “things aren’t going well with us right now.” I asked if he was cheating on me and he said no. I believed him, at least at that point in time. I didn’t know why else things would be going poorly in our relationship. We were dealing with cancer but surely, our relationship could weather that hiccup. I ended up reassuring HIM that this stress was temporary and we needed to hang on and get through this and see how we felt about our relationship once we had a “new normal.” I didn’t tell anyone about our conversation.
He sat with me in the waiting room at the hospital, along with my entourage. I needed him there and he seemed like he wanted to be there. My surgery took a few hours longer than expected and he had to go to work before I woke up from anesthesia. I know now that he spent the time I was in surgery with my sister Kim and friend Kristin. They walked through the nearby Arnold Arboretum, and unbeknownst to me, he mentioned to them that I needed to get a job. They felt it was an odd comment, but let it pass and certainly didn’t tell me about it. They relayed this conversation to me only long after the relationship was over. I woke up after surgery and repeatedly asked for him. He left me a note that said “Had to go make the bacon Kitten. I love you,” and of course, that was more than enough to keep me hanging on.
I went home to Steamboat just a week after surgery. My doctors wanted me to wait at least two weeks before flying, but I had guests flying in from Sarasota and we had made pre-cancer plans to attend a Buck Brannaman (famous horse trainer) clinic in Hayden, Colorado, during the first few days of August. I flew into Denver and I drove the three hours home to Steamboat. I opted to rest that night and then spent the entire morning rushing around cleaning the house (the three dogs had been home with a dogsitter for the entire time I was away…the house was ummmm, hairy). Jan and Lisa arrived a full eight hours earlier than I anticipated (they had changed their flights and I guess I forgot!). I was supposed to limit lifting for a few weeks so it was lovely to have friends with me to pass the time and to help out with the animals.
It was during their trip that I spoke with my ex really late one night and I knew something was very wrong. I pushed and pressured until he finally said he just couldn’t do “us” anymore, primarily due to my lack of work ethic. It was pretty late when we had the conversation, so I didn’t feel I could call anyone on the east coast for support, and for whatever reason I didn’t want to wake Jan. Instead, I invited Mr. Mulder (my rottie/shepard mix) into my bed (the dogs only get on my bed when I am extremely sad or extremely drunk), tossed around, and cried and hugged Mulder until I finally heard Jan stirring upstairs in the early morning hours. Thank goodness for jet lag! I padded up the stairs, bawling. Jan and I sat on her bed, me barely breathing as I explained the conversation from hours before. If I recall, she said that was unacceptable and advised me to pack up and leave. I wish I was stronger then, and I wish I followed that advice. When Bing came home from that trip, something had definitely changed and we felt strained. That was the first time I’d seen him since I was rolled away for surgery.
Before my friends left Steamboat, we took them for an excursion in the Jeep and four-wheeler out to no-man’s land. It was rocky and I had to compress my boob to keep it from bouncing and causing pain. My girlfriends were horrified that my fiancé didn’t seem to have a second thought about the adventure and discomfort I was experiencing. To be honest, I was just happy to be out “being normal,” even if it wasn’t the best activity for me at that stage of my healing. Looking back and thinking about who I want in a future relationship, I think a more thoughtful man would have suggested a different activity.
We went to British Columbia at the end of August or the beginning of September 2012 with plans to stay for as long as possible again. We literally planned to leave for the trip when I finished my egg retrieval, the timing for which was an unknown, and return when I planned to start chemo, which was at the end of September. I had to work with my oncologist so that he’d allow me to wait to start chemo. He was pretty understanding. My ex had a layover in Boston while I was going through the cycle of injections, ultrasounds, and blood tests for the egg retrieval. I remember us both being excited to see each other and about our soon-to-be adventure back to BC. It gave me hope and reassurance that things were going to be OK.
Looking back, I’m not so sure how I felt reassured because he had decided that he didn’t want to participate in freezing embryos, and that solely freezing my eggs was the best option. He was against spending the money on the fertility treatment when I would probably be able to get pregnant naturally anyway. I think I only really “heard” the part of his argument that we probably wouldn’t need to use the eggs and completely ignored the part where he shied away from freezing embryos…now I see that meant he would be even more committed to me and take that much more away from me if (once) we were to break up. Mind you, I was of the mindset that we were “seeing what happened” in terms of pregnancy before my diagnosis, and at one point were elated when I thought I was pregnant, so the change in his heart should have been a much bigger warning to me, or at least one I shared. Instead I defended his decision to my friends and family as though it were a joint decision and it made the most sense for us. Luckily for me, I didn’t want to lose the option of having my own biological children one day, and since I had the option to relieve that uncertainty, I made the unilateral decision to take it besides the lack of support from Bing.
One of the first few days we were in BC in 2012, we went on a day-long hiking trip while staying a few days at a hunting cabin leased or owned by another couple in the valley. We took five dogs, two four wheelers, and two dirt bikes (as far as I could go on mine, anyway!) I remember I had a terrible period, my first since finishing my egg retrieval process. In all likelihood, the heaviness and pain I felt was due to a combination of the hormonal treatments I had just taken for a number of weeks and my IUD, as I could not use hormonal birth control. Regardless, eventually Bing used my discomfort during that hike against me, as one more example of our differences, that I wasn’t tough enough to live the life he wanted to live. Mind you the previous year we had spent six weeks in BC together, were completely in love, challenged ourselves physically daily, and he asked me to marry him at the end of our trip.
We were laying in bed (in his home-made camping van) one morning in BC, with our three dogs cuddled together on the little bit of available floor space, and I asked him if we could set a date in the spring or summer to get married, so that I would have something to look forward to after chemo and radiation. He hesitated and wasn’t sure he could do it. I grew a pair and told him that he couldn’t keep me hanging on if he wasn’t committed, that it wasn’t fair. Later that day while we were out in a hayfield, he told me he couldn’t set a date and couldn’t marry me. I handed him back his ring and walked hysterically to his step-mom who drove me back to their house to pack. We were both crying during the five mile drive home. She kept reassuring me that I am young and beautiful and will find another man. I threw our things in our duffle bags. When he returned with his Dad we sat outside and talked for a little bit. I had nothing to say other than asking him again to hang in there. I am still the same person he fell in love with and proposed to in BC the year before. I wanted to stay and make things better before we left, to forget about real life and chemo and my “work ethic” and feeling alone in my experience.
We left BC just an hour later. We talked some in the van ride, and again I tried to reassure him that we just needed to get through cancer and see what life was like on the other side. I put my engagement ring back on my finger on the drive back to the U.S. That “pair” I grew a few hours earlier didn’t last for very long. I didn’t tell anyone what transpired.
I can keep listing things that my ex-fiancé did during the months between my surgery and the end of radiation. He didn’t want to nor felt the least bit obligated to pay for any of my medical bills. He withdrew when I wanted to freeze embryos in case chemo put me into premature menopause. I took money from my 401(k) to pay for my deductibles and egg retrieval. In the meantime he spent thousands on a dirt bike and related fees to ride in the Baja 1000 (I did completely support him in that venture though). He sold my truck that he had bought for me in Florida and gave me a Subaru station wagon we were given for free (and wanted me to purchase it from him when I left Steamboat). We both had knee surgery in December 2012, and he refused to help pay for my physical therapy. He joined a local gym and said I could once I was working. I dragged him to my therapists office one afternoon and all he could contribute to the conversation was that I didn’t have any work ethic and that we were two different people. I think he may have also offered up (I’m paraphrasing here) that I “had all the time since BC to convince him that we should be together.” I am still completely perplexed by how someone with so much drive for personal success couldn’t find that same drive to make US a success. Are not good and loving relationships fundamental to a successful life?
I barely complained during all of this because (1) I was afraid to lose him, and (2) I wanted him to live as normal a life as possible while I was undergoing treatment. My life had to slow down quite a bit, but I didn’t want to prevent him from living his life at full-speed – I knew for sure if I did that he would leave me. What I naively didn’t see is that no matter what I did, he was traveling at full-speed away from me, away from whatever unconscious, residual suffering and pain I stirred inside of him.
Packing to leave Steamboat was one of the hardest things I have done in my life. Not only did Bing refuse to see me again, but he fought with me over moving expenses and vehicles. He felt like I should get myself back to Florida on my own accord, and that his financial responsibility for me was over. He also refused to pay for anything if I took my engagement ring with me. He cut off the credit card, my only source of money to get back to Florida, when I was about halfway home. I had cash from the sale of some hay and he told me that it should be enough to finish my travels. I found out shortly after I left that he was sleeping with one of my Steamboat “friends.” He began dating someone else “seriously” (?) just a few months later.
Sadness overtook me at the strangest moments. One smack came when at a tire/uHaul shop in Kremmling, Colorado. My Dad and I were barely 45 minutes outside of Steamboat when we stopped to check our rig and animals (my two dogs and goat were traveling in a broken-down Yukon we were hauling back to Florida, with the hopes we could get it running cheaply!), and I heard one of the trailer tires hissing. Sure enough, it needed internal patching (I think of it like surgery for rubber tires).
I went to the bathroom at the service station and tears filled my eyes. I wasn’t thinking about Bing in particular, I was just plain sad. I sat, reading the hand-written directions taped to the wall behind the seat to “hold flusher down until bowl is empty, then release.” I would do anything to take my mind off the squirming in my chest. I went outside and got in and out of the uHaul truck while the tire was worked on, trying to find some physical place in the universe, besides the arms of the man I loved since those could no longer provide comfort, a place that would hold me momentarily in a state of peace, relieving the tremendous pressure from my soul. I felt pregnant, pacing and trying to get comfortable, only there was nothing to push out to alleviate my discomfort. Neither myself nor any place or person could yet do that for me I realized, so I climbed into the uHaul and melted into the passenger seat, where I put on my sunglasses and let tears spill over and down my cheeks.
Something that I have mourned this past year is the loss of the shared cancer experience with a life partner. To me, cancer was such a life-altering event (not quite like having kids with someone, but close in its own way), that I wish I attended the cancer party with a man who loved me for the duration of the event, regardless of my fears, tears, and sometimes erratic behavior, and who trusted that the old Cathy, minus a few milk ducts but with a new-found maturity, would be back when the party was over.
I describe the “bad” things that went on while I was sick, but understand that I never gave up hope about “us” until that last phone call in Boston. Also understand that Bing wasn’t always a jerk during that time. Some days were better than others. I always had fun with him. Life with him was a big amusement park ride and I was 110% ready and excited about hopping on. In the end, in many ways I suppose, he was like the cancer: I learned a lot about the disease over my nine months of treatment, and when all is said and done, I am now tougher because I survived the experience.
At diagnosis I felt so lucky to have the love of my life beside me while I navigated the rocky terrain of breast cancer. But when I walked out of my last dose of radiation, holding hands with my ten year old cousin and a broken heart, I knew I hadn’t found him. At least not yet.
The Loves of my Life and Me
jean karren said:
Cathy ! more great writing…I just wanted to keep reading and reading ! Who knew Dora would make such a better life partner than the B-word….this blog could be a rough outline for a novel… only dora, jenna and mulder would have to have more page time…(and of course, the chickens) Love you and keep it up. I’m just remembering last winter again, but it makes me miss you and the critters..what a time.
Frank is wintering well, next month I’m going to the Big Island (staying with a friend there) for 2 weeks, got to get out of the snow.
Thankfulness to whoever is god that you didn’t marry him.
Thanks Jeannie, You are the BEST!!!
Wow. We will likely never meet, but your writing is amazing, and you radiate strength. No doubt your prince awaits…
Thank you so much. I greatly appreciate your comment and compliment! =)