When Mary Potter Kenyon’s husband, David, was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2006, she searched libraries and bookstores for books on cancer and the caregiving experience. What she discovered was a plethora of technical and medically-oriented books or those written by a caregiver whose loved one had died, a scenario she refused to contemplate. While serving as David’s companion during Wednesday chemotherapy treatments, Mary began journaling about their experience as a couple and parents of young children as they navigated the labyrinth of cancer. It soon dawned on her that she was writing the very book she had searched for upon David’s diagnosis: one that goes beyond the cancer experience to give hope and inspiration to the reader. Chemo-Therapist: How Cancer Cured a Marriage is a moving testimonial of a relationship renewed by the shared experience of a life threatening illness."
Initially, after David’s diagnosis, I would cringe when I read books or articles by cancer survivors who stated that cancer had been a gift in their lives. How could all that David endured be viewed as a gift? The invasive surgery, the weeks of chemotherapy and radiation: a gift?Yet, after the cancer, David would often reach for my hand and say, “If it is cancer that is responsible for our new relationship, then it was all worth it.” And I’d reluctantly agree that cancer had been a gift in our lives. We’d both seen the other alternative: patients and survivors who had become bitter and angry, and neither one of us wanted to become that.
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About the Author
Mary Potter Kenyon works as Program Coordinator for Shalom Spirituality Center and is a public speaker, a workshop presenter, and a writing instructor. Mary is the author of five previous Familius titles, including the award-winning Refined by Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace, and is widely published in newspapers, magazines, and anthologies, including ten Chicken Soup for the Soul books.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 2:The Diagnosis
For years my rare lone bubble baths always included at least one floating toy army man or hard plastic cow figure, and usually by bath’s end, an ecstatic toddler who stripped off their clothes and jumped in. The end tables in our home were inevitably strewn with books and toys and our van littered with candy wrappers and stray shoes. Small fingerprints marred our woodwork and windows. Ours was a child-centered home, which just makes sense since children outnumbered adults in our house ever since 1987.
By 2006 we were living in rural Dyersville, Iowa, in a rented farmhouse with our five youngest children. Unable to find work in his chosen profession of social work, David had been working as a maintenance worker at a nursing home for almost nine years and I stayed home and homeschooled our children. My job was to stretch our limited income as far as possible and I’d gotten quite proficient at it, matching sale prices with coupons and stockpiling items that were either free or cost just pennies. I dressed our children well with bargains from the clearance racks and thrift store finds. A couple of our babies were outfitted completely in high-end boutique quality organic cotton children’s clothing, courtesy of a woman who bartered with me, sending me gently used, expensive infant clothing in exchange for books I found for her. I supplemented our income by selling short articles and essays I wrote. I’d also spent several years selling extra books from our family book sale hunts, paying for our own purchases in the process and networking with other homeschoolers. I was busy all the time, and if asked, would have said that was typical for any homeschooling mother of a large family. I can think of many mornings when in the daze of a long to-do list, I actually pushed my husband David out the door to leave for work so we could begin our real day without him. Many times he left with little more than a perfunctory peck on the cheek from me, usually given grudgingly since I really didn’t have time for anything else.
During all those years raising young children David and I hadn’t exactly lost sight of our marriage but it had been a long time since we’d held hands, drank gallons of coffee like we had while in college, and just talked. We’d gotten apathetic when it came to working at our marriage, and I had accepted it as natural for a couple busy with small children. David had been sleeping on a mattress on the floor of our bedroom for almost three years, since the birth of our youngest, Abby, in July of 2003. It was just easier for nighttime nursing to share a bed with my last four babies. With each baby it seemed to take longer to ease them into their own bed. Emily was born in 1996 and slept with us for over two years. Katie was born in January of 2000 and stayed in our room until her sister was born in 2003.
A week before her third birthday I decided it was time to wean Abby to a toddler bed next to ours. That same week David would be visiting an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT), about a lump he’d noticed on the left side of his neck. Our doctor had already prescribed a dose of antibiotics to see if his lymph nodes were swollen from a virus. When the lump got bigger, he ordered a CT scan, which showed a definite mass on the left side of his neck. I’m not sure what I expected to learn when I went to the appointment with David, but I wasn’t prepared to hear the “C” word.
It took Dr. Alt, the ENT, only a few minutes to find a growth on the far back side of David’s tongue. As he informed us that he needed to do a biopsy of the lymph nodes and that he’d found a suspicious growth on the tongue, it slowly dawned on me what he was talking about.
“Are you talking about cancer?” I asked, hoping against draining hope that he would say no.
“Yes,” he said, “It looks like cancer.”