“When the doctor told Jeff he had cancer, life as we knew it came to a screeching halt,” said Amy, 32, a law student who has been married for five years. “It took six months just to get a diagnosis because everyone kept assuring us that Jeff’s chronic bladder infections were nothing serious. This despite the fact that he had bleeding, constant pain, and no response to five different antibiotics. The urologist finally agreed to a biopsy because we insisted.
“Three days later the guy called us into his office. I knew it was bad because he wouldn’t look us in the eye. When he blurted out the bad news, Jeff turned white as a sheet and I burst into tears. I couldn’t believe it! Until this year Jeff was the healthiest person I knew. He runs four times a week, has never smoked, and has no family history of cancer. Bladder cancer is usually caused by smoking or exposure to certain industrial chemicals. Jeff’s type, unfortunately, is atypical — rarer and more serious.
“The following week was a blur of medical appointments. Every doctor thought Jeff’s cancer hadn’t spread but all said he needed a urostomy — a procedure that removes all or part of the bladder and creates a new way for urine to leave the body. Impotence is a common side effect — not something you want to hear at any time but especially not when you’re planning to start a family, as we had hoped to next year. As a safeguard, we froze some of Jeff’s sperm.
“The surgery went well but at Jeff’s first post-op appointment we learned that there were signs the cancer had spread outside the bladder. Once again we were plunged into despair. We consulted four oncologists and opted for radiation therapy. Jeff has to go to the hospital for a 15-minute treatment every day for three months.
“So far he has recovered remarkably well, though of course he’s tired and has lost his appetite. We don’t know yet if he’s impotent. At first he didn’t want to tell anyone at his job that he was sick — Jeff is an investment analyst in New York City — but eventually he confided in his boss, who encouraged him to take off as much time as he needed. Instead, Jeff has poured himself into his job.
“That’s nothing new. He’s always been a workaholic, glued to his BlackBerry even on the ski slope. And I’ve often felt like an afterthought. We had so much fun while we were dating — on weekends we’d jump in the car and just explore — but once we were married there was barely time for conversation, much less travel. I felt so ignored that I thought about leaving Jeff, but we went for counseling and about a year ago our marriage turned a corner. Things have been fantastic, and we were excited about trying to get pregnant.
“Then this happened. Now we’re back to our old argumentative ways. Jeff will get home late from work, then spend the night online researching new treatments. He’s getting care at one of the top cancer hospitals in the world — does he really think he’ll discover something his doctors don’t know about? I’ll beg him to stop and get some sleep, and before you know it, we’ll be in a huge fight. There are days when even a conversation about what to have for dinner turns nasty. I feel him pulling away, just like before. It’s as if he’s forgotten everything we learned in therapy.
“I want to be strong for my husband but I’m overwhelmed with fear. I can’t help thinking, What if he dies? Before the diagnosis I was pretty sure we could handle anything. Now our marriage is unraveling before my eyes.”