Coping With Cancer: Anniversary

By Margaret Nyman

October 14, 2009

Last night I was tidying up Nate’s nightstand. Next to the half-glass of Gatorade was a rainbow assortment of Post-it notes, his long-term method of staying organized. Most were ready for the trash and none had any interest to me, but I peeled them up for him anyway. Stuck to the tabletop at the bottom there was one that interested me. It said: 11/29/09, 40, carok.

Nate was noting our upcoming anniversary, our fortieth, reminding himself to be prepared. But what about the word on the bottom of his Post-it? I figured it was probably something in Russian. Nate has always studied languages and enjoyed a college minor in Russian. He speaks it fluently and loves practicing his vocabulary. All of us know a smattering of Russian as a result of his consistent practicing on us.

This morning, on the way to radiation #11, I tucked his anniversary Post-it into my purse. As we waited for treatment, I handed it to him.

“Our anniversary,” he said, smiling.

“Yes, but what’s that last word?”

“It’s ‘forty’ in Russian.”

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Lately, we’re holding hands a great deal. Today I studied his hand as I held it in the radiation waiting room. His wedding band has never been off since I slid it on during our ceremony at Moody Church, in 1969. Since that day, he’s always been fully committed to me, protecting, providing, participating.

Forty years ago, each of us made vows to the other that were meant to be honored “till death do us part,” and it looks like death is about to part us. The official rending began last night when a hospital bed arrived at our house around 8 p.m. The flight of stairs to our bedroom had become a mountain Nate could no longer safely climb. A near fall and frequent stumbles, even though others have been “under-arming him” both directions on the steps, had motivated us to request the bed.

But last night as I put my head on the pillow in a room 20 feet from Nate’s new main floor “bedroom,” our physical separation settled hard on me. He was needy but was too far away for me to hold his hand … or hear his breathing or feel his chest move up and down. My bed was lonely, a sad foretaste of the future. Will we be together to commemorate our fortieth? Or will he be far away in another realm entirely, out of sight and out of touch?

As I tucked Nate in tonight after a busy day that wore him out, I asked how he liked his new bed. Too tired to speak, he just nodded approval. After I bent down to kiss him, I said, “I love you.” Too tired to reciprocate, he winked at me instead. In 40 years, I can’t ever remember him winking at me. It was youthful, cute and loaded with meaning, and it made me kiss him again. He’ll never miss me like I’m going to miss him.

Love bears all things. Love endures all things. Love never fails.

Guest contributor Margaret Nyman chronicles the 42 days after her husband Nate, a patient at Rush University Medical Center, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Read more posts by visiting the Coping With Cancer section or subscribing to the RSS feed. Her personal blog is at

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