Dear my beloved Husband:
On February 17th, we will be celebrating our 17th wedding anniversary. Ah, the red rose Valentine’s Day theme: classic, simple, beautiful. I remember every detail of that day like it was yesterday. I can’t believe it’s been 17 years.
To some, that’s nothing. To others, that’s something. To me?
Everyone knows marriage is hard work. You and I have witnessed many marriages crumble over time, and we’ve seen other marriages shatter into sharp shards of brokenness under the weight of circumstances that dissolve unity.
Marriage is not for the faint of heart, but rather it demands a relentless reach toward one another in the thick throes of a merciless world. And sometimes, arms get tired. Other times, one arm gives up, while the other desperately stretches over and over again to grasp what little it can. We’ve danced through many seasons with this delicate balance that sways back and forth, at times reaching relentlessly toward one another—raising our hands in the folds of hard decisions, and other times, grasping with what little we had to give. Marriage does that.
I’m just so grateful we’re still reaching.
As we celebrate 17 years of doing this daring dance together, I want you to know that through each and every turn, lift, carry and fall on the marital dance floor, there has always been one consistent and unfaltering way you have loved me. It has been the greatest, most enduring part of our history, but more importantly, it has nourished the woman in me and gifted me with a message I believe all women deserve to hear, but don’t.
You always tell me I’m beautiful.
This may sound like a simple and easy thing to do, but you will never truly understand what it means to me.
You see, I believe you.
I believe you, not because when I get all dressed up and feel pretty, you say it.
But rather the opposite. When I’ve been at my ugliest, you’ve meant it.
Standing in the shower, trembling from pain, unable to move.
Broken and bruised.
Stitched up and swollen.
Empty of all that made me a woman.
The tears never stopped and the humility drowned my voice.
The mirror’s reflection revealed a hideous beast of a body that replaced what once was.
I hurt. Oh, how I hurt.
I couldn’t raise my arms to wash myself, or bend over without enormous pressure bellowing toward my chest, so every day you would climb in the shower and take my hand to escort me there.
Groggy from the narcotics that dulled my balance and fueled my nausea, I could barely stand. You held me up until I felt centered enough not to fall. Taking the soap into your hands to make a lather, you gently stroked my skin and ran your fingers down my bloated broken body, tenderly touching all the bumps, the bruises, the stitches and the dried-up blood.
And while you bathed me, I moaned and cried, soaking in the warmth of the wetness and the assurance of your whispers . . .
“You are so beautiful.”
Over and over again.
“You are so beautiful.”
For weeks, this was our routine. For weeks, you couldn’t wait to wash me. For weeks, you would say over and over again as you bathed me…
“You are so beautiful.”
Thank you, my love, for always making me feel beautiful. You will never know the power of your words and how deep they go.
After my sister was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer and learned she had the BRCA1 mutation, she begged me and my two sisters to get tested. My test came back positive. For me, having previously found one abnormal growth in each breast, and my maternal grandmother dying young of this monster, I needed to seek a doctor’s counsel and research this mutation. I found clear data (risk of cancer: 87%) that demanded my attention, and my breast surgeon urged me to take immediate action. I was young and the threat was overwhelmingly convincing.
I had three surgeries with three surgeons all at once—a double mastectomy, complete breast reconstruction, and a full hysterectomy at the age of 42. It wasn’t easy, but it was what needed to be done. I chose to let go of all my parts and pieces that defined my womanhood, for the sake of my precious family and for the hope of a future, cancer-free.
My sister gave me and our other sisters the gift of knowledge. She says this is the great accomplishment that came from this horrible journey—saving us from the monster she continues to fight. Data has changed, but the threat is still very real. I believe getting tested for the BRCA genetic mutation can save lives. I will always wonder if it saved mine.
I knew, of course, that I would always be a woman, even without my breasts and uterus.
But it was and always will be my husband who makes me feel like a woman.
I am beautiful to him.
He reminds me all the time.