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Merle Haggard reference)

Sex and cancer do not seem to go together.

Cancer is all about sickness and weakness and psychic and physical changes, while sex is about vibrancy and youth and life and activity.

Okay, maybe not youth.

My mom (geez, mom, I’m talking about you in a passage about sex, and I am not even from West Virginia) (just joking, my sweet WVA friends!), my mom was in her late 30s when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. That was in 1974. It was my first year of college. They told me, my dad told me, to stay in school, that I couldn’t help. So I did. I stayed in school.

Later I saw my mom, saw how the cancer and the surgery had aged her. I saw the scars. Whether it was the United States Navy or just the practice of the day, it appeared they had taken a chainsaw to the upper right part of her torso.


How does a marring physical effect not impact your mind? How does it not make you feel like less a human being? How does it not make you feel ugly, to be blunt about it, a transmogrification of your former self?

And how does your significant other react to that? How does she or he deal with that significant change to your physical presence, your external image?

In our jaded times, it is a corny word, but I would advise that the answer is Love. (I am puking, myself, right now, trust me, but it is so.)

My dad stuck by my mom right to the end, some 20, 25, years later. And I believe, for whatever reason, that it was in the last days, the last year, I should say, that they loved each other most, that they realized what they meant to each other.

But that is, really, a digression, too. That has nothing to do with sex, and I do not want to talk about sex and my parents. I really do not.

I suppose I wanted to point out that they hung together, even if, as I must admit, they were like a rabid dog and a ticked off cat from time to time.

Me? I was born for sex, so it is ironic that I married a nun.

But, to be honest, here is the real irony: we all know that men reach their primes in their late teens or early 20s while women hit the mark much later. And we all know that drugs put a damper on sexual activity. Don’t we?

For those who do not, let me explain that anti-depressants and chemotherapy, to name but two, have an impact on sexual drive. Add things like blood thinners, as the case may be, and you can see how it could be a problem, although just a small one.

In other words, my wife has taken off her clerical vestments at the same time I am putting on the stiff collar.

Again, though, I digress.

Physical disfigurement is a problem and an issue. How does a man deal with his wife when she is scarred, potentially forever? How does a woman accept a man whose tongue is gone, or nearly so, or whose testicles have been altered forever. How does anyone accept a partner wearing a bag?

We can try to push it under the carpet, but it is the real deal.

On one hand, you have someone who feels that they are ugly, even when they are not. They are monsters, even when they are not. They are not themselves, even though they are.

On the other hand, you have someone who is completely outside of that emotional loop, someone who, even if they truly love you, is thinking you are not who you were yesterday.

Hopefully, you look inside. Surface people will not, but most of us will look inside, as we always have, and we will see the beauty that attracted us to one another to begin with. Hopefully, we will realize, as a friend of mine tried to point out today, that flaws are not all external. We all have flaws, and it is how we deal with them that make us what we are.