The other day I visited my Seattle oncologist. As I entered the elevator to leave, a familiar face turned toward me with a smile. I knew that I knew this man but his name escaped me and he looked different. But he certainly knew me. We entered the elevator together along with his companion, a woman. The smiling man looked a bit jaundiced and he had no hair. As I began to recall how I knew him it hit me his looks had changed – a lot.
“What brings you here to the oncology floor?” I asked. The smiling man gave the not-too-surprising answer that he was a patient. “Do you mind me asking your diagnosis?” I probed. After all as a leukemia patient, I felt we were all there for something serious. “Pancreatic cancer,” he answered with confidence, not with fear. As we arrived at the lobby our conversation continued. The man introduced me to the woman with him, “my better half,” he said. I must have looked surprised since the man, his wife, and four children had been over to dinner a few years ago and I’d seen them several times at sporting events when our youngest children played football on opposing teams.
It tuned out the man’s wife of many years had left him for another man. Did that come after this man’s diagnosis I wondered, but was afraid to ask. The man from the elevator went on and he continued smiling. He explained that his companion has a diagnosis too. I turned to her and asked which one. The same – pancreatic cancer – but she’s a patient at another medical center across town. The man anticipated my next question. “We met through friends on Facebook.” My head was spinning, a love story of two patients who met in a virtual world, bonded by one of the most life threatening diagnoses. I imagined how they must support one another.
As they headed for their car, with the pancan.org rim around their license plate, (Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, the leading advocacy group) my head was spinning about a long-term marriage that ended, a man with a devastating diagnosis, and finding new love with a woman who may face the same fate.
Whether or not it is true in this man’s case, the diagnosis of a serious illness puts tremendous stress on a marriage or long-term relationship. Often the healthy person bows out. Maybe that breakup was coming, maybe facing mortality was too tough.
In this case, however, the jilted spouse is not going on alone and he is with a woman who completely understands his fears because those fears are hers too. Relationships require understanding and this time illness, and an increasingly common Internet connection, has provided that understanding to a new couple who really needs it.
I waved goodbye as they drove off. I hope I see them both again as happy as they were this day.
Wishing you and your family the best of health,