What I have learned on the cancer journey with my husband


I have been on a cancer journey with my husband for 8 years

In fact, in the space of 10 days, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, my wonderful father died, and my daughter lost a long awaited IVF pregnancy. It was a traumatic time.

To his credit, my husband is a very determined man. Despite having major surgery to remove the prostate, and the complications that went with it, he submitted his doctoral dissertation 3 weeks ahead of schedule, and completed his doctorate that year. He is an amazing, passion-filled man of God.

The experts will tell you that prostate cancer is called couples cancer due to the way it affects the marriage relationship and intimacy.

I was angry for a long time.

I tried bargaining . . . I tried reasoning . . . but at the end of my struggle (and I still have some bad days), I prayed what Catherine Marshall called the Prayer of Relinquishment:

God, I give in. I give this all up to you who knows all things, and you will work this for our good.

There have been times . . .

  • There have been the ups and downs of discovering that one treatment after another has failed to bring about remission.
  • There are the holding-breath-times every three months for the blood result. Will it be the same or better or worse? Will it bring new challenges and more treatment?
  • There are the growing times as we discover more about our God who sustains us and gives us grace to move forward.
  • There are the discovery times as we find out more about each other and the depths of insights that come from seeing courage and faith arise in each other.
  • There are still the difficult times of facing a new treatment option and how it will affect him both in terms of energy, time spent with doctors, and keeping perspective on the rest of our lives.

Marriage is like a pool of water

Marriage is like a pool of water and we both bring ourselves, and all we are and have experienced and pour it into that pool. There is no separating out the particles once the water has mixed. And so we learn and grow together through our respective pain, our fears and uncertainties.

When I walked down the aisle to marry my handsome husband 40 years ago, it was to the words of this hymn:

Guide me O thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land,
I am weak but thou art mighty,
Hold me with thy powerful hand.

It was probably a strange choice for a young couple even then, but that hymn has been our constant prayer and help.

On this journey through cancer, I have learned these things about our marriage:

  1. Communication is key.
  2. He may not be ready for the emotional bits that I want to share and that’s okay.
  3. I must express my emotions and have a safe place for them, outside of his world.
  4. I cannot deny how I feel.
  5. I must allow him to be himself in his expression and not fit my mould.
  6. I need to listen out for the telltale signs that he is under pressure and be willing to listen.
  7. Listening is important; giving advice is not.
  8. I must be patient with the process — it’s not cut and dried.
  9. Each person grieves for the loss of ‘what was’ in their own way, and we must allow space for that in each other.
  10. Together we must explore new ways of ‘being’ as a couple.
  11. The sense he makes of life with cancer may not be the same for me, and that’s also okay.
  12. It’s important to do my own research and be informed.
  13. Our marriage can prevail, and continue to be good — even better — and more understanding can develop in and through the experience of cancer.
  14. It’s vital to reinvent our marriage all the time — to keep the quality up and the conflicts down.
  15. I can be a safe place for his expression of fear and anxiety when it comes, and not overreact when he expresses it!
  16. The grace of God is sufficient for us in this season of marriage.
  17. I must make peace with uncertainty and constant change.
  18. Good friends are a very rare treasure.
  19. We have grown in God, and I would not change a thing.
  20. God is a constant refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

The day my husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer

The day my husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer, we drove back home from the doctor, not knowing what to say to each other. We had a new book in the car, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God by John Piper and Justin Taylor. I opened it to read the chapter headings and the last chapter was titled, ‘Don’t Waste Your Cancer’. We read together about celebrating Christ in the midst of cancer and that was our answer.

The scriptures declare,

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness (2 Peter 1:3).

We will celebrate Christ

We will celebrate Christ in the midst of adversity.
We will glorify Christ when afraid,
when in emotional turmoil,
when under pressure,
or when facing new challenges on this continuing cancer journey.

We have everything we need!


Alison Ward

Alison is married to Steve; they have two married daughters, and five grandchildren, and live in Gauteng, South Africa. She has pastored with her husband for thirty-three years, has a nursing background, and recently completed a master’s degree in leadership and coaching. Alison is passionate about teaching the Bible and partnering with women to fulfill their gifts and potential.


One Comment

  1. meryl June 27, 2016 at 11:07 pm - Reply

    Very brave! It was not easy for me to watch my best friend and husband suffer with this devastating illness! BUT God gave me something deep to get through feeling so helpless, so deeply affected by His trust in God! Slowly, like ice melting, I was given rays of hope, peace, that Joy by God’s wonderful love and assurance.

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