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My Double Mastectomy Tested Our Relationship — And Made Our Marriage Stronger


Falling in love is one of the pinnacle human experiences: the flutter in your chest, the bliss of a lingering hug, the exhilaration of a kiss. We revel in the intensity and the novelty of a new relationship. There is so much to discover and learn about one another. Choosing love each day, every day, builds a foundation strong enough to withstand the toughest of times.

After 23 years with Brian, I still get that exhilarated feeling. I also know there is still so much to learn about him and so much I have to share. Brian and I are not the same people we were 23 years ago or even 23 days ago, but we are still each other’s biggest fan.

Over the course of our relationship, we have had joy and adventures. We got married, put each other through graduate school, relocated across the country, bought a house, became parents, moved a few more times, experienced job changes, and started a business. Through these experiences we have held each other up and stood shoulder-to-shoulder while creating the life we dreamed.

Of course, not every moment of our marriage has been smooth. When it comes to relationships, no one plans for the hard times. Our lives are full and fulfilling despite having experienced some significant challenges. And will those challenges ever test you. 

A Test of Strength

In May 2013, we lost my mother to breast cancer. Because breast cancer runs in my family, my risk for developing cancer was high, so I decided to have a prophylactic (or preventative) double mastectomy. Brian was completely supportive. In fact, we had been talking about the possibility for years. 

We worked together to get our family ready for the upheaval. Our friends and family were full of love and willing to help. That allowed us to focus on the task of eliminating the overwhelming cancer risk. The first 14-hour double-mastectomy surgery was a singular test of the strength of our relationship. Brian was there for me through the uncertainty, the pain, the rawness of the physical recovery, and the vulnerability of the emotional recovery.

The next two years were colored by grief. They seemed to revolve around subsequent surgeries and recovery. Brian and I fell out of step with one another. I began to feel “flung from orbit.” We each felt alone in the odyssey of what we began calling Body 2.0. Even Brian’s most sincere and loving efforts to reconnect us left us feeling like we were strangers.

Although it was hard to feel that way, it made complete sense that we would each have our own unique responses to the most significant challenge of our relationship. We began feeling like our relationship would never be the same. And then we both came to the realization that was okay. Our marriage could be stronger, more resilient, and more loving than it ever was if we focused our intention on making it so.

We continued to say both the hard things and the beautiful things to each other. Even through the darkest experiences, we stayed committed to finding ways to reconnect. There were date nights, vacations, cuddling, and long talks into the night. We were patient, accepting, and forgiving when we couldn’t show up for each other the way we wanted. The love was there. The intention was there. We trusted each other in our capacity to create connection regardless of how long it took. 

Finding Common Ground

As my body healed, we dove into dialog about my body image and how Body 2.0 functioned. We worked around my experiences with pain, numbness, scars, and adhesions. Brian was an excellent listener and deeply sensitive to anything that surfaced for me emotionally while we worked on our renewed intimacy. And I was awed by his ability to share his experience, so we could find the most loving and satisfying common ground.

Over time this enhanced communication has become habit and has only made our relationship more dynamic and powerful, a welcome side effect of the double mastectomy that eliminated my breast cancer risk. Through this experience, we’ve become an even more fierce and effective team because we know we were able to reframe our challenges as opportunities to grow together. We’ve maintained trust in each other to do our best in every moment. We now allow every challenge to remind us how amazing it feels to always remember to choose love.

This essay was written by Krista Haapala, a personal and relationship coach and author of the memoir, Body 2.0: Finding My Edge

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