Journey to Cancer

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by K. Joy Williams

I woke him up out of his sleep with a right hook to the jaw. My body was shaking from head to toe with rage. I wanted to kill him, smash him, destroy everything about him. All I could think about was the incredible amount of time I had wasted being married to him. We both lept from the bed at the same time. He was rubbing his jaw and trying to wake up while I was hissing at him. I had found the proof I was looking for; proof of his infidelity.

One week prior I walked in on him sitting in front of the computer punching out a love letter to someone other than me. The kicker? He was at my place of employment. I was devastated, stunned and in shock. He swore he had not slept with her. I did not believe him for a second. Who takes time to write a letter filled with intimate thoughts when they peck at the keys with two fingers? Someone who has quite a bit invested in someone else is my answer to that question.

I told him I was going to find out. I told him that when I found proof we were done. I told him that I was serious and not about to change my mind. I reminded him of all the years I spent begging and pleading with him to attend marriage counseling. I assured him that I was sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was going to leave his ass and move forward with my life.

In the back of my mind a tiny voice whispered a reminder that I would also need to divulge my own infidelity of years past when we were separated but still married. I knew I had to do it but I wasn’t going to let him off the hook so easy. In my mind the crime was the same but the circumstances made all of the difference. The voice reminded me that regardless of the circumstances we were both too deeply entrenched in the church culture to just walk away without a second glance.

Deep down I was relieved. I was so incredibly exhausted from living a life that was not my own. I was perpetually wasted from the energy it took to maintain the status quo. I was sick to death of being gay and doing everything I could to live straight and failing miserably. Within my heart I began to write a song of freedom and escape from captivity. I knew that the journey would be long and difficult but I did not care. I could finally, finally, finally be true to myself.

I thought it would be easy you know? Separation, divorce, healing, coming out, freedom. What I did not take into account was Gods overt interest in the unfolding of each and every event and the incredible path of character development and personal integrity the journey would demand. My husband and I began this journey six years ago. It was not what I wanted, but it was everything I needed. Our six children were forever transformed and nothing was ever the same.

The journey is told through snapshots of explanation meant to describe context and journal entries that were written along the way. The entries are sometimes raw and explicit. The language I use is meant to convey the truth of what was in my mind and my heart during the journey. The story is real and so is the pain; I did not endeavor to protect the beliefs and values of anyone. When I began to write it was to simply share with others what was happening with Terry. As the journey lengthened every place of fear, confusion, anger, hopelessness, helplessness and pain began to burst through the surface.

Our journey was not for the faint of heart. The journal entries challenged many Christian focused perspectives and beliefs. I wrote as a means of decompressing the God awful pressure that continued to build. I wrote so that I could find the space to function again. I wrote to relieve the constant rage that had become my new companion. I wrote to save myself.

I am not a saint. I make no claim to perfect spiritual discipline. I am simply a woman who held her world together through strength of personality and determination until a terminal diagnosis of cancer swept away what I thought was an unmovable foundation. The ensuing journey forced me to re-evaluate what I thought was important in life. It caused me to re-imagine life and to face all the fears I had buried for years.

I finally accepted that the sexual orientation I learned to hide would never be satisfied by pretending to be someone other than myself. I faced the realization that everything I had believed about God was in fact true and in contradiction to almost every sermon I had heard preached. I had to live out a truth that I felt unprepared for. The decision to divorce my husband was overturned by the pronouncement of terminal cancer. Suddenly the hope I had experienced of being released and set free was crushed.

Anger, resentment and grief took its place.

My husband and I were best friends. He became closer to me than even my sister. He knew everything about me; yes everything, even my sexual orientation. I trusted him. I loved him. We did not work well together as husband and wife but we were pretty awesome as friends. We made a great couple as long as you didn’t know what was under the surface. I talked, he didn’t talk often. It led to a ceaseless battle of wills. He withdrew and I pushed. We learned how to be perfect for others and we learned how to settle for being best friends and sometimes lovers.

I believed it was that settling that lead him to have an affair. When the affair was revealed he pronounced that it had nothing to do with me or our marriage, but I had been perfectly socialized to believe the opposite.

Knowledge of the affair led us both to a place we would never return from. The journey was not of our choosing but it certainly served a purpose far beyond our ability to conceive on our own. Facing death and the loss of someone integral to your life has a way of creating new perspectives and redefined goals. Our relationship experienced a healing and an authenticity of self that didn’t exist prior to the diagnosis.

This story is meant to be shared with those seeking authenticity and release. Authenticity in expression of honest emotions. Release from cultural expectations which create a life time of self denial and suppression of non-mainstream knowledge and experiences. The words I share are mine but the experiences belong to thousands if not millions of other individuals and families.


I need space in my soul but I cannot find it. I do not want to talk, dialogue or converse about my problems. Is there anything left to say? I have lost everything that I held important. All that is left is me. I will one day lose myself as well. That does not frighten me. I look forward to losing the limitations of this world in anticipation of what lies ahead.

There is a God awful battle going on inside of my soul, warring with fragments of thoughts scattered among the tombs of punctured beliefs, seared ideas and broken values. Something I cannot name yet is causing an internal upheaval; forcing what has been present to shrink in hopes of being ignored. Whatever it is refuses to accept a compromise. It acts as though it is an old tenant grandfathered in and exerting its right to control and direct. I am confused. I have no idea where it came from.

I woke up one morning and it was there. Screaming and yelling for space in my soul. Demanding a hearing but only willing to talk. It would not listen. Nothing I said or did could satisfy it. I am at a loss. I am trying to find space for it but I cannot. There is no space large enough for it to inhabit. If I give in I am sure it will overrun present residents and occupy space on the grounds of imminent domain. I do not know this for sure but the signs reveal its goal.

Whatever it is demands that I become even more silent than I am. At first I thought it was depression but I decided that depression is not good for the posture or complexion. I thought it might be stress and that a few days rest would satisfy its need but the rest only served to increase its voice. I thought it might be anger but after one or two outbursts there was nothing left to ignite a fire. It begs me to sit with it and listen to nothing.

I no longer know what I am reaching for. There are no more successes that I can think of pursuing. I have no direction or desire to establish goals. I care nothing for accomplishing a great feat. I don’t know when it happened. There was no great boom to alert me. Suddenly I could care less about what job I obtain, what position I hold, how many if any friends I have. Everything is ephemeral nothing will last. I know this now and the knowledge is bittersweet.

I may never be known outside of the few people in my circle. I will never be accepted by all. Some will leave my side after promising to stay and others will stay and not understand why. I am not here to please myself or to please others. No one exists in human form to please me. I can sense the direction of my life changing and now I know that it is out of my hands. I have no desire to fight anymore. The thought of it only brings more weariness to my soul.

I expect no sudden miracles or deliverances. To some this may seem like a lack of faith but I am only responding to the truth revealed to me by holding on to God while being beaten to emotional death. The glory of God is in my refusal to turn away from Him. I do not know what He has done or is doing in my soul. It is painfully embarrassing and mortifying to my human flesh.

I looked at the pitiful amount of money I had today and the mountain of expenses that continue to grow. Quite unexpectedly the thought blared across my mind that one dollar at a time, intentionally and consistently I have the ability to come out of debt. This is what life is all about. Living one day at a time the best we know how and trusting God in the process. I do not expect life to get easier as though I have an unalienable right to it but in faith I pray for Gods mercy and justice to prevail.

I need space in my soul for what is brewing. I think tonight I must give way to the demand of Gods presence. I am somewhat afraid but have resigned myself to the truth of my need. I can not take another step or live another day in my own strength. Whatever He decides must be enough for me. There is a God awful battle going on in my soul but I am told he never loses a battle he enters.

I have no more weapons to use. I am sure the sifting has not been completed but the tide of the battle has turned. When you look for me and I cannot be found do not worry or be concerned. I am simply allowing him to create space in my soul.

The Diagnosis

He was constantly complaining about his stomach hurting. I thought it was bad eating on his part. He loved sweets and foods high in fat. I kept bugging him to go to the doctor; I was sure he had developed diabetes or high cholesterol. I was confident that the doctor would confirm my suspicion that years of poor eating habits and resisting my efforts at changing his diet had finally caught up with him.

He was stubborn. His mind could not be changed until he was ready to change it. When the pain in his stomach became constant he finally made a doctors appointment. I wasn’t able to go with him because I had to work. I didn’t see the need to take time off for something that I had the answer to already. By this time I was sure he probably had an ulcer to go along with the diabetes and high cholesterol.

He went to the doctors on Friday morning. When I arrived home from work he was in a pretty miserable state. He was scheduled to work on Saturday. The weather was predicted to be about 85 degrees. I was worried but he would not consider staying home. He loved working with the youth. He was a program coordinator working with the local park district. He worked at a middle school site to run his programs and he had stories to tell every night about what went on in that school. He made me laugh all the time. Side splitting, cover your mouth to keep spit from flying out of your mouth kind of laughter. He was a maestro of the funny bone.

He told me the doctor took his blood and said it sounded like an ulcer. I didn’t crow with glee at being correct in my educated assumption. I figured I would wait until he was all better and then let him have it. I planned on using the information to forge ahead with my plans for total eating habit transformation. I was taking over his world one bunch of broccoli at a time.

I had been home for roughly one hour when he received a call on his cell phone from the doctors office. They wanted him to come back on Monday morning. They were vague and ambiguous saying only that they wanted to run some more tests. Right now even as I relay these events I can see him sitting on the sofa across the room from me. I see him speaking into the phone and growing quiet as he disconnects. I see him giving me a half hearted smile while telling me he has to return to the doctors. I see him clearly shoving his fear and uncertainty down into a safe untouchable place.

I remember my playing along with his charade of bravado and minimizing the implications unspoken in the air between us. I remember the way my stomach clenched itself in knots that refused to loosen the rest of the night. I remember holding him that night and telling him not to worry. All the while my mind was fraught with fear and concern.

He went to work the next day. He was miserable. They were on an end of year field trip at a local amusement park. He told me that he sat in the shade most of the day with his straw hat covering his face. By the time he arrived home he was ready to collapse. He slept for most of the weekend. By this time I had convinced myself he had the flu, an ulcer, diabetes and some other unknown illness that would be eradicated through medication, healthy eating and regular exercise.

Monday morning we were back at the doctors office. The doctor told him they wanted to draw blood again. He started asking all kinds of questions like, “have you ever had black stools? do you have problems eating? have you seen blood in your stools?” I looked him squarely in the face and asked him what they suspected the problem was. In my mind all of the questions were leading to cancer but the doctor said he was sure it was probably a really bad ulcer but there was a slight possibility that it might be cancerous.

We left there and went home. Terry was beyond exhausted and shuffling more than walking. When we arrived home he exchanged street clothes for pajama’s and went to bed for a very long nap. We were quiet that day. Gentle and attentive. My cell phone rang at 11:00 pm. It was the doctor we saw that morning. He explained that Terry needed to be brought into the hospital right away for more test. He drove home the sense of urgency saying that he had lost a lot of blood and they needed to figure out how and why. By this time both of us knew it was serious.

They admitted him into the hospital and began to run test. He had a CAT scan, an MRI, ultrasound and more blood drawn. Once they were done I went home. They said that the results would be in first thing in the morning. I went home and collapsed. A few hours later I got up and sent the kids off to school and went back to the hospital. I was there for about fifteen minutes when a doctor we had never met walked in and introduced himself. His name was Troy Wadsworth.

He explained that he was one of a team of oncologist and that based on all the tests they had run Terry had been diagnosed with stage IV Pancreatic Cancer. His prognosis was 6 to 8 months left to live. We looked at him and then looked at each other and began to cry. I remember hearing the doctors voice fade to nothing and I placed both hands on the side of Terry’s face and looked at him with tears in my eyes saying we cannot allow fear to control us. We have to remember who we are and who we believe in. We both believed that our faith in God would see us through this next life challenge and we were correct; just not in the way we thought. Life was about to be irrevocably transformed for all of us.

Joy Williams is the Diversity Program Manager at the Washington State Bar Association. She recently published the article “From Violence to Wholeness” for Black Women’s Blueprint. Joy holds a BA in Urban Studies from the University of Washington and a Masters of Public Administration from Seattle University. Tweet her at @E2Enjoy