Love in the Time of Cancer

I used to be able to paint my own toenails but that was before age and arthritis caught up with me and these days I can’t SEE my toes, much less paint them.  Here in the land of perpetual sunshine and flip flops one is not allowed to have ugly feet, so off I went today to see a lovely woman who takes care of such things.  Today she was very sad over the end of what had been a promising love affair. He had seemed to have all the “right ingredients”—handsome, slightly older than her but boyish still, owned his own business, long divorced with no pesky baggage such as alimony—for a while she thought he just might be “the one.”  I asked her what happened and she said simply, “Anger issues.”

A couple of months ago, writer and radiation oncologist Dr. Robin Schoenthaler shared with me an essay she wrote in 2009, which I had somehow missed when it went viral over the internet back then.  It is simply titled, “Will He Hold Your Purse?” and here is the link because it is a must-read for any woman seeking a man:  I thought about that article today as my manicurist, age forty-five and gorgeous but still single described walking away from a relationship that she recognized could be harmful.  And I remembered some of my own stories from the cancer clinic, and I told her one of them.

I recall one couple distinctly, from 2003.  They were both in their eighties, and she had breast cancer. One reason they were so memorable as a long married couple was that he was African American, and she was Caucasian, and back in the 1940’s when they married, two schoolteachers in love, they must have faced nearly insurmountable prejudices and racism.  He was an attractive soft spoken gentleman, with a sweet smile and wiry close cropped gray hair.  She must have never been a great beauty, but time had thinned her hair, and added on pounds, and osteoporosis had twisted her spine. When I saw her after her surgery, she had had a wound infection, and her breast had become misshapen as a result.  He held her hand tightly though out the consultation, and when I left the room so that she could get dressed, he followed me out into the hall and grasped my own hand in both of his. With tears in his eyes, he asked, “Will she be alright?”  I replied, “Yes, she will.  Her cancer was caught at an early stage, and I think she will be fine.”  He sighed with relief, and still holding my hand, he said of his wife, “She is my princess and my queen and my better half and my best friend.  I could never go on without her.  Thank you, Doctor, thank you.”   We walked back into the exam room and he beamed at her.  She blushed as she met his gaze.

I don’t wish for any couple to have to undergo the litmus test of a cancer clinic.  But when my manicurist said to me today, “I don’t think I even believe in love anymore,” I sure wish we had a proxy for that partner who, in Dr. Schoenthaler’s words, “will sit in a cancer clinic waiting room and hold hard onto the purse in his lap.”  That’s the one we want.


  1. I count my lucky stars each and every day (even those days when I am so annoyed with him that I can’t see straight) that I have a lover and husband who gladly holds my purse.

  2. Thanks! Brought tears to my eyes. Just this morning a patient told me in these times of divorce, it is not wise to love too much. I thought the comment so sad. How much is enough? What would we be capable of knowing that kind of love was in our lives?

  3. Had a patient 4 years ago who came to the radiation therapy department with her spouse. They were both in their 80’s. I asked how long they were married & was surprised at the answer, “2 years”. Tell your pedacurist that it’s never too late!

    I was unable to open the purse article. Will keep trying. Would love to read it. I did find one of those men.

  4. If you can’t open the link, just google Will He Hold Your Purse? It pops right up. From the Boston Globe newspaper, 2009, by Dr. Robin Schoenthaler.

  5. Both posts, yours and the one you recommended, are simply wonderful. Thank you, Miranda.

  6. Wonderful when people find their other half, as it were….never know if it is luck, hard work, combo of both or what. At my age, I am too cynical to buy into this possibility and will settle for my dogs as they never seem to let me down. It just seems like too much work to look for such a relationship. Seriously. Maybe I am crazy. But I don’t know……the dogs are awfully good to me! :>)

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