There’s something about the marriage vows that are exchanged at a Catholic wedding. I feel that it’s so profound yet complete, that there’s no word I want to add to or omit from it. And it never fails to touch me at every Catholic wedding I attended, including my own. It goes like this:
I, (name), take you, (spouse’s name), to be my wife/husband, I promise to be true to you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, I will love and honour you all the days of my life.
The priest who prepared us for our wedding and celebrated it was Fr. Stephen Yim and he reminded us to look at each other (instead of the booklet with the vows printed on it) because we are, after all, saying the vow to each other. I made it a point to memorise it.
Of course, I meant it with all my heart when I uttered those words; I’m sure Keith did too. But little would I have expected us to live out those vows in the most trying manner, just one month after our wedding.
From cough to cancer
I’ve been nursing a dry cough for the longest time. If I’m not wrong, it started about two weeks before my wedding. By my wedding, I couldn’t speak properly without coughing between sentences, and also was unable to sing the full song that I wanted as a surprise for Keith during our wedding dinner.
Exactly one month after our wedding, after a scary vision I had in church (whilst praying, I saw an image of thorns growing rapidly on my right lung, destroying everything in its way), I decided that I would admit myself through A&E to get an X-ray done. By then, I had been been coughing for 1.5 months, and having some chest pains (although the GPs that I’ve visited suggested there’s nothing to worry about).
To cut the long story short, I was admitted into hospital and within a few days, I was diagnosed with Stage 3.5 lymphoma. That’s cancer, by the way. It was a tumour that grew on my right lung – the exact location and shape that I saw in my vision.
I could have died
Everything happened really quickly. Thanks to the grace of God, I actually took it well, and bravely made tough decisions to save my own life. It’s still amazing to me how I was able to be so logical despite the storm that was brewing in my life.
But what’s amazing about this was the people who stood firmly and supported me during this ordeal. Without giving my parents and brother any less credit, I must say that I was very amazed by Keith’s tenacity during this period. Y’know, because we are not blood-related, unlike my family and I?
We didn’t date for a long time. We were only married for one month. He should be afraid, and he could run away.
I suggested to him an annulment. He didn’t sign up for this, I told him. The battle ahead was going to be really tough. There was a chance that I might die. The tumour was huge: at 9×10 cm. And it was aggressive and fast-growing. As such, the treatment was going to be aggressive. I had to spend a lot of time in the hospital for chemotherapy.
I would lose my hair, brows and lashes. My body would get a lot weaker because chemotherapy destroys the good cells too. We would have to spend a lot of money to get me treated. And even after all these, there was still a chance that I might die.
And if I didn’t make it, I wanted him to be able to marry someone in the future in a “clean slate” and that’s possible if we annulled our marriage. At the same time, even if I made it, I wanted him to have the chance to “opt out” of the tough journey ahead. There are going to be struggles that “normal” couples don’t have to go through even after I finish chemotherapy and am in remission. He had to be aware of this and he had to know he will be taking on additional responsibilities.
In sickness, and in health
Thankfully, my husband chose to stand by the vows he made to me and God. And I never stopped feeling grateful about it. With tremendous support from my family, him and a group of awesome friends, I was able to weather through the storm with lots of courage, grace and joy – yes, joy!
And one day, while praying and feeling bad about putting my loved ones through this ordeal with me, I heard God telling me not to feel bad. Because when we vowed to love and honour each other “in sickness and in health”, it wasn’t just about the healthy spouse sticking to the sick one, but also for the sick one to continue to love the healthy spouse despite her pains.
It’s true that it’s harder to love and be nice when you’re very sick. I made it my personal goal to not throw tantrum at anyone who cared for me just because I was in pain. I think I did well.
Keith may not be the most meticulous person and he blamed himself for not realising I was having fever for an entire day from neutropenia (where a part of white blood cells fall to abnormally low rates). This could have cost my life.
But he is awesome in many, many ways: shaving his hair off as a sign of support for me, taking care of all my administrative matters while I was sick, spending nights with me at the hospital sleeping on the uncomfortable couch, praying with me, accompanying me to medical appointments, and generally being my pillar of strength in the toughest and most painful period of my life. I’d imagine that’s what God wanted Adam and Eve do for each other: to be each other’s companion and helper.
Someone asked me after I was hospitalised if we had gone to a fortune-teller to get an auspicious date for our wedding based on our eight characters. We didn’t. “Maybe that’s why you’re sick right after you’re married, perhaps your eight characters clashed,” I was told.
I don’t know what others think, and I really don’t care what they thought. If eight characters really mattered, then Keith and I must have the most compatible ones, because he complemented me perfectly. And no matter how I looked at this ordeal, I see it as a blessing. Who else could confidently say that her husband was going love her even when she’s sick and ugly (or bald, like me)?
I can, because, he did.