LOVE is in the air – and I like it.
I know it's a gimmick, but I'm a fan of Valentine's Day, mainly because I don't expect anything – other than a soppy cuddle from the dog.
I fell into a heart-shaped hole at my local supermarket, carrying a bag brimming with pink and red crap.
I was like an excited teenager preparing to send my first Valentine.
These days teens would tag the object of their affections in an Instagram post, I went old school – chocolate, single red roses and a giant card.
I got carried away on the wings of love, that light-hearted red roses kinda level. The whirlwind of infatuation and day dreaming that makes love, well fun.
Oh if only love was that simple?
Cancer changes your relationship
Fifteen years, a few kids and a stage 4 bowel cancer diagnosis later and love is, well… complex.
It's complex, wonderful, frustrating and heartbreaking all rolled into one.
Cancer – or any illness for that matter – changes your relationship, full stop.
It changes how you interact with your partner, it knocks your confidence.
I felt silly worrying about my sex life of all things, when the really important issue I faced was living
It changes your sex life, your sex drive, your desire.
It changes how you think about your partner, and the dynamic changes – your lover becomes your carer.
I know I have been guilty of pushing my husband away at times – irrationally blaming him for not understanding.
Yet in the next moment I need him back, I rely on him to be my rock and hold my hand through the darkest of times.
How can he win? It's hard not to crack in among the cancer chaos, I fall apart on a regular basis.
So anyone who tells you it's all a bed of roses is lying – to themselves as much as they are to you.
Survival first, sex later
One of the hardest things to face, for me, was the physical changes – the things that impacted on my sex life.
I had no idea what to expect when I was first diagnosed, my sex life was the least of my worries.
But, as the months went by and the initial shock of having cancer numbed bit, that's when I started to notice the side effects, the other side of cancer.
It hit me like a tonne of bricks.
We all need intimacy, whatever that looks like in your relationship – we are all different.
So to suddenly notice a complete and utter lack of sex drive was a shock, and one I struggled to deal with.
It puts a strain on a relationship, and it's hard to talk about.
I felt silly worrying about my disappearing libido
I felt silly worrying about my sex life of all things, when the really important issue I faced was living.
I told myself it was ridiculous and dismissed it, but in hindsight it's important.
Having a connection like that with a partner helps get you through the dark times.
It's easy to let the logistics of living with cancer, regular life and treatment get in the way of that relationship – you can start taking it for granted.
Then there are the drugs that may have put you into early menopause, or like in my case, the numerous operations that left my body so delicate even the gentlest of touches felt agonising.
I was covered in post-op scars, some bowel cancer patients have a stoma bag to deal with.
My vagina is shorter as a result of my operations, and for male cancer patients erectile dysfunction is a reality.
And it's not just a physical thing.
Mental mind f***
It's a mental one too. My mind was far to consumed with fear to even consider an orgasm, though arguably an orgasm may have helped take my mind off the fear.
And don't even get me started on my confidence levels – I face times when I feel so unsexy, so of course maintaining my sex drive can be a challenge.
Some days I crave the attention, just wanting to feel wanted and desired.
Other days, my husband can't sneeze near me without getting his head bitten off. Understandably navigating that – for both of us – is hard.
It's not just about the patient
And that's the other thing – it's not all about me, the patient.
It's all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking it's all about you, but while I was the one diagnosed with cancer, my husband was affected in a different but no less meaningful way.
Cancer rocked my life, and with it came a change in the dynamic of our relationship.
I was suddenly struggling to fulfil every role. How could I be a mum, wife, lover, cancer patient and put all that effort into staying alive?
How could my husband feel that desire for me, when he was facing the reality of losing me?
How could he touch me, and not be afraid of hurting me, when every inch of me was in pain?
I went from being his wife, to being more like a child. I needed looking after, and he became my rock.
Cancer makes you question everything
But like with all cancer patients and their partners, it's been a rollercoaster of emotions.
I've seen people run scared because they can't face the thought of losing their partner.
I've seen people question if their partner was right anyway – when faced with their impending death.
And I know that it's easy to become so focused on staying alive – and rightly so – that you forget your partner needs your attention too.
In many ways, I think it can be just as hard, if not harder for a partner to watch cancer happening to their loved one.
They watch you go through it all, powerless to help.
But where cancer can force you apart, in the next moment it can bring you much closer together.
It makes you realise what true love, a really deep love, is all about.
Maybe you can only really appreciate true love in the face of death?
Recently I was at a book launch and Anna Whitehouse read out an interview from her book on marriage.
It was an interview with a terminally ill woman, Rachel – who has since passed away.
I cried listening to it.
To find a love in a broken place is the hardest thing to do.
The easiest thing to do is run, to protect yourself and stay infatuated with the fantasy of love.
But the real challenge is to find beauty in the broken – and love it anyway.
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