Can marriage survive leukemia? One couple has an answer

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Can marriage survive leukemia?

Can a CML patient marry? When I held my husband’s urinal bottle at the hospital I realized I would need to be his lover and caregiver.

In case you are wondering can a CML patient marry? The answer is yes. My husband has CML: Chronic Myeloid Leukemia. It was the day after our first visit to The Cancer Hospital, so we both went back to work, pretending as if nothing had changed between us. The usual frustrations of a school day—the misbehaving children, the demanding administrators, trying to meet the needs of 26 individual children—failed to bother me that day. Dealing with my “normal” job stresses felt wonderful compared to dealing with cancer, although in the back of my mind, I kept asking myself: will my husband’s CML affect our marriage? Can a marriage survive leukemia?

That evening, DGuy, my partner, lay on the couch after dinner, flipping through the channels. I hoped the TV would distract us from thinking about his diagnosis.

Bleeding bone marrow biopsy

DGuy sat up suddenly. The entire couch cushion was red and wet with his blood. The bandage from his bone marrow biopsy was soaked through. Something was wrong, though we didn’t know what. This was another one of cancer’s curveballs. “I’m calling 911,” he said. Seeing that much blood from the bone marrow biopsy was alarming and scary, but surprisingly, I didn’t panic. Instead, I focused on what needed to be done. While we waited for the ambulance, I grabbed a towel from the bathroom and helped clean the blood off of DGuy.

Read moreWhat to say to a co-worker with cancer

Minutes later, the paramedics arrived. I told them that my husband has CML and that he had had a bone biopsy earlier in the day. While the EMT strapped DGuy on the gurney, I hastily threw some items in a backpack: snacks, a change of clothes, and DGuy’s medical records. “Is there space for me to ride in the back?” I asked. I was curious about what it was like to ride in the back of an ambulance. Strange that I could have these ridiculous thoughts in my head while my husband was in an emergency situation. They shook their heads. “Ma’am, we suggest you drive your car, so then you can drive him back from the hospital.”

I fill out forms – meanwhile, he bleeds

This was the second time in two days for us to visit a hospital–but tonight we were at The Local Hospital. The E.R. administrators triaged DGuy, and though lying flat on his stomach, he still obediently signed all the paperwork. DGuy was wheeled into a space separated by curtains. The attending physician Dr. J examined the bone marrow biopsy site, where a small trickle of blood pulsed from DGuy’s body. We explained DGuy’s recent diagnosis.

“How long has he been bleeding?” Dr. J asked.

“He was just sitting on the couch when he started bleeding. The entire cushion is covered in blood. That’s why we called 911.” I said.

“That’s not a lot of blood.” Dr. J sighed. “You should have put pressure on the site and iced it. If he was still bleeding after twenty minutes, then you should have called.”

So we called eighteen minutes early. DGuy was just officially diagnosed with cancer yesterday. Forgive me, Dr. J, rookie mistake! Dr. J ordered a blood test.

“You never know why he’s bleeding like that. Something could have happened.”

Nurse N came into the room to hook DGuy up to an IV. Because DGuy was still on his stomach, the IV had to go in his hand. After that, nothing happened. First, we waited for the results of the blood test (the white blood cell counts were still high, just like the day before). Next, Dr. J wanted to wait and see if the bleeding would stop on its own. There we waited as Dr. J dealt with other patients. I noticed DGuy trying to sit up, but the IV in his hand and the wound from the bone marrow biopsy still seeping blood prevented much movement.

“Hey, honey? I need to use the bathroom. Could you help me?”

I rang for Nurse N.

“I’ll give you a urinal bottle,” she said.

‘Please don’t,’ I thought.

She handed me a plastic bottle, much like a half-gallon milk container with an angled top. DGuy shifted gingerly to his side, and….no need to go into graphic detail here.

‘This certainly changes the dynamics of our relationship,’ I thought. As DGuy relieved himself, I felt the foundation of my marriage shifting. How will my husband’s cancer affect our marriage?

My husband has CML: how can I be a lover and a caregiver?

Was this how I’d relate to DGuy’s body from now on? As a caregiver and not as a lover? Our marriage vows echoed in my head: “To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish ’till death do us part.” This week certainly exemplified the “worse and sickness” part of my vows. Would I be strong enough to live up to my vows? It was scary to consider what it would mean if I wasn’t strong enough. At the very least, my wedding vows need to be changed: “To have and to hold urinal bottles…”

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Nurse N came and placed an ice pack on DGuy’s back to slow the blood. At least he wasn’t spewing blood, but I was concerned that it wasn’t clotting. The bedsheets had a smear of blood. Nothing to do but continue to wait. I contorted my body in an attempt to get comfortable in a flimsy plastic chair. I stared at the bare tile floors, the rhythmic beeps, and whirs of machines sounding around me. Three and a half hours later, about one hundred ninety minutes past Dr. J’s suggested twenty-minute parameter, DGuy was still bleeding. Dr. J sighed and said he would stitch DGuy up. Another hit of Lidocaine, and three loops of the needle later, the bleeding stopped.

The bone marrow biopsy stops bleeding – finally!

If only it were so easy to stitch our lives back together. The day after our trip to The Local Hospital, DGuy stayed home. I went to work, even though we got home close to midnight. I didn’t even think of calling for a sub. Creating sub-plans took more work than showing up tired to work.

Read moreCounseling for cancer: why are we afraid to say we sometimes need it?

Upon returning home, the first thing I saw was the bloodstain on the couch cushion. Reality soaked in. “Honey?” I heard movement in the bedroom. I stood at the doorway and peered inside. DGuy was asleep, and I decided not to wake him.

I returned to the living room. Our couch had been scotch guarded “against all stains!” the saleslady had said. We shall see, I thought grimly as I attacked the stain with a rag and detergent. I scrubbed and scrubbed, trying to erase this terrible stain on our lives. The soapy foam turned pink. More than ten minutes later, I sat back and surveyed my work. The entire cushion was soaked through. Was the stain fully removed? Or would there always be a tinge of blood on the cushion?

Will my marriage survive leukemia?

The hard part was “not knowing.”  Not knowing what the next day would bring, whether we’d be back in the hospital again, or whether DGuy would have another emergency. His diagnosis was already distressing enough, but all of the unknowns were piling on more stress. My whole life had been fairly predictable. Study hard, get good grades, go to college, and get a good job. The universe had a logical order that made sense to me. Cancer did not. As I stared at the dark and damp cushion, I felt a grim satisfaction that at least I had erased this stain, but whether I could control cancer’s mark on our lives, I could not say. But what I could say was that our marriage had weathered the initial shock, and in doing so, I was more confident that our marriage would survive leukemia.

Article by
Dragon Gal

Dragon Gal (DGal), a 40-something woman married to DGuy. DGal and DGuy write about a variety of topics on their blog, including travel, fiscally responsible living, dealing with chronic illness, and the pursuit of early retirement.


At the very least, my wedding vows needed to be changed: “To have and to hold urinal bottles…”