On cancer and love

Fellow Massachusetts native and hoops lover Jack Crane sent me the following touching Chicago Tribune story about a couple who met, fell in love and married for 51 days before the husband died of cancer.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in hospitals this past week-I’m writing this post from the lobby of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center-and have, as readers of this blog know, had a year filled with the deaths of family members and a number of dear friends.

As such, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about love, death and sources of meaning.

On some levels,  a relationship that begins with one person having a terminal disease represents a magnified version of what we all know-that in relationships that last, one of the partners very likely will outlive the other.

The courage the couple in the article show in not surrendering to the disease and in allowing their love to flourish and find public expression moves us both because their feelings for each other trumped their knowledge of the husband’s impending death and because we wonder if we would have the strength to make the same choices if faced with similar circumstances.

Lance Armstrong had a related experience with his first wife Kristin, whom he met after he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer.  The two eventually had three children and years of marriage before divorcing in 2004.  In his second book, Every Second Counts, Armstrong gives his undrstanding of what happened between them, the distance that grew due to his whirlwind of activities.

I obviously was not there to witness what happened between the legendary biker and his first wife, and one wonders, too, if the vicissitudes of ordinary life and the challenge  of dealing with young children took a toll, too.

I was there for part of the relationship that bloomed between Maria and dear friend Jeff Kantrowitz, who died in May 2001 at the age of 31 after a valiant multi-year battle with cancer.

Like the other couples, they were a woman who met a man who had been told he had a disease that likely would kill him.

As with the first couple, they chose to move forward with their romance until he died.

As with both pairs, to some degree their rlationship’s intensity seemed heightened at times by the knowledge of the death that will eventually meet us all.

I certainly enjoyed being around Maria and Jeff and have been moved by reading both about the couple in the Tribune article and about the initial stages of Lance and Kristin’s relationship.

At the same time, I also admire those people who find within themselves the fortitude, wisdom and grace not only to derive meaning in the hard times, when the obstacles are clear and obvious, but in ordinary days and times, when the sources of meaning may not be as evident.

I want to be clear that I do not in any way seek to diminish or even compare the two types of relationships. I actually see them more as part of a continuum.  Beyond that, I learn from those people who find tenderness, connection and love in small moments and ordinary circumstances when the awareness of death is not as present. 

I look forward to reading your responses to the Tribune article and to hearing where you find inspiration and meaning in your relationships.


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