Love Letters on our “Cancerversary”

Posted by on Jan 24, 2014 in Lisa and Mike dialogues, Mike's cancer journey | 15 comments


Dear Lisa,

Five years ago today we stood in front of family and friends and we vowed to share with each other life’s joys and sorrows, pleasures and pains from that day forward until death did us part.  I guess it goes without saying that I never expected to spend this anniversary sitting next to you in a Cancer Treatment Centre. 

This morning as the sun was rising above the ocean, I looked at the slideshow of photos you put together from our first five years.  Tears came to my eyes several times.  You know how it’s possible to increase the color saturation of photos to make them more vivid?  Looking at the photos in your slideshow reminded me of how vivid the past five years have been – packed full of so many intense joys and sorrows, pleasures and pains.

In Love at the Speed of Email you compare the concept of home to a multifaceted diamond – claiming that home isn’t just linked to place, but to people and purpose as well. We’ve been blessed in all those ways during this first season of our marriage.

Place. Getting married at your parents’ home, atop a hill overlooking green fields, a river below, and the Pacific.  Honeymooning in New Zealand.  Our little one-bedroom apartment in LA during our first year of marriage that was the setting for so many sweet sunset chats over wine, cheese, and crackers in between my numerous overseas consultancies. 

And speaking of place… How lucky have we been to live in Luang Prabang, Laos for three years?  Lush green mountains, converging rivers, saffron-robed monks, tropical waterfalls, walking to dinner while we watched the sun set over the Mekong. 

But what about purpose and passion?

Remember that blog post you wrote a few years ago about living inside the circle of your passions?  One of my greatest joys during the past five years has been watching you grow into your passion with writing.  I’ve loved watching you write (and re-write and re-write and re-write) Love at the Speed of Email, helping you craft thoughtful blog posts, and seeing you launch a variety of products for people in long distance relationships.

I’ve had good experience with purpose these past five years, too.  Even though I didn’t like being apart from you so much during our first year of marriage, I loved the challenges, stimulation, and learning of those consulting projects in PNG, Sudan, Indonesia, and Malawi.  And most of the time in Laos, I have loved my job.  I’ve felt electricity in my step in the mornings when I’ve gone to the office.  I’ve (mostly) relished my time in the field, and of mentoring and helping the staff achieve outcomes in such a challenging and complex environment.

I feel sorry that our time in Laos may always feel somewhat tarnished by the memory of the depression and burnout that came toward the end of my time in Luang Prabang.  But perhaps that’s part of living within the circle of passion.  Perhaps part of the deal with wielding that particular double-edged sword is that it isn’t always easily sheathed before damage is done inadvertently. 

Finally, home and people.  We’ve created two brand new people in the last couple of years.  What a precious, exhausting, intense experience it’s been to bring Dominic and Alex into this world together.  What better words can I say, Lisa, other than “I love you”.  I’m so grateful that we’ve shared the past five years together.  I wouldn’t want to live this vivid life with anyone else.


Dear Mike,

The sunset on the evening of our wedding was glorious. I remember being down on the beach after the ceremony – the wind whipping through my hair and tugging on my veil. Above us the sky was a dark and heavy blue, but the setting sun caught up the edges of that coming storm and gilded it with rosy gold. The horizon glowed with that vivid, dramatic beauty that only seems to show up when light meets darkness.

These first five years of our marriage have been a bit like that sunset. We have shared and made so many vivid joys. They have been years of walking and talking and laughing together. Of creating two beautiful babies. Of delighting in fun times with food, wine, friends, and each other. But they have also been years of some vivid sorrows – of accidents, and hospitals, and grim dark seasons of the heart and mind. And I never dreamed that our fifth wedding anniversary would find us in an oncology unit, watching black-bagged chemicals slide into your arm.

I’m thinking, as we sit here together this morning, about a moment we shared three years ago now. I’d been writing all morning, trying to pin down an ending for Love at the Speed of Email. I’d finally managed to force my thoughts into words, and I brought those last scenes to you – the ones set the day before our wedding – for you to read.

I waited while you looked it over.

I am going to put on a beautiful dress tomorrow and walk down a grassy aisle littered with frangipanis to the celestial sounds of Gabriel’s Oboe from The Mission. And then I will make these promises.

In the end I am not going to promise or demand that Mike will be home to me – after a certain point in life, perhaps home is more something you make than something you have, anyway. But I will, in essence, be promising to fashion a home with him.

I have no idea what places, people, and purposes that will come to mean.

This scares the part of me that longs for the white-picket-fence version of home, that wants to predict and control the future and that yearns for the grounding grace of routine. It thrills the part of me that longs for the sharp spur of purpose to drive me from my comfort zone, that craves the cold-shower shock of novelty and the adventures of dirt roads less traveled. I’m not sure that these paradoxical longings will ever be fully reconciled – I’m no longer sure that’s even the point. I am, however, certain that I want Mike to be beside me whatever form home might take for me in the future. I am convinced that a white picket fence with him would be better than bumping down a dirt road without him and that traveling a dirt road together would beat out a white picket fence that’s mine alone. That sort of peaceful surety is worth following down an aisle and across the world, don’t you think?

I do. 

The week I wrote that had been a particularly difficult one – full of crazy-making construction noise, food poisoning, antibiotics and headaches. It was definitely a bumping-down-a-dusty-road-in-Laos type of week. I remember how you grinned the first time you read my new ending.

“Those are beautiful words,” you said.

Then you looked at me intently, with a gleam in your eyes.

“Do you really mean them?” you asked.

I paused for a very long moment, and then I grinned back.

“I meant them the day before our wedding,” I said.

We laughed.

Now we’re five rich years past that scene the day before our wedding, and today I want to tell you this…

Yes, I still do mean those words. I am so glad I followed you down the aisle and around the world. Traveling these dusty, sometimes bumpy, roads with you during these last five years has immeasurably enriched my life. And since you have to be here right now, I would rather hang out with you in an oncology unit than enjoy a beach sunset alone.  

That said, let’s shoot for the beach next year instead. OK?

I can’t wait to see what the next five years brings.

All my love,

Related posts:

The rat has left the room
Are you serious?
Dear Dad, Love Dominic


  1. Dear Lisa and Mike, thank you for sharing your letters to each other. Congratulations on 5 years of marriage. May the Lord bless you greatly during this intense and stressful time. May He encourage you and give you continued courage as you fight the fight with thing called cancer! You and your families are in my prayers.

    Much love to you, Jules

  2. Thanks for letting me into your intimate journals. I was there on that perfect day and I was with you in spirit and prayer as you faced the op. May God give you grace to live out your resolves every day with his help.


  3. Mike,
    You are the one person I’ve seen truly walk in faith, never wavering (at least not that I’ve seen). Your love for God coupled with the love you and Lisa share will get you through this and all other storms. Take care, know that you are being prayed for around the world and CONGRATS on your 5th anniversary!!

  4. How lucky Mike and I are that you fell into our lives, enriched our visit to Laos and continue to enrich them. These anniversary letters are a great idea and letting us in on the journey is so lovely. I’m voting for celebrating on the beach next year as well. This cannot be fun but you seem to be managing it with grace. If wishes work, the future will be bright.

  5. Nothing more to be said than beautiful and inspiring. Much Love Ann x

  6. You two are beautiful!

  7. Beautiful! Beautiful- what a treasure you have in each other! Happy anniversary- Praying and believing for complete healing. Thankful to God for you both!

  8. It’s so rare that others, especially friends, enrich our lives by their example. And that’s what you have done. You both set a high standard for courage and commitment. I hope your treatment plan goes well. Oh, and Happy Anniversary! Much love, Mike

  9. Love these letters and love you both! You must have made quite an impression in the Oncology Ward. It’s not every day that they have people there in their wedding clothes, I bet. We are praying for you and thinking of you from afar. I hope the next 5 years brings more joys and fewer hospital visits!

  10. Congratulations on your five year wedding anniversary. Such beautiful letters so lovingly crafted. God Bless and much love and bon courage. Definitely hope next year finds you celebrating happily on a beach!

  11. What a privilege it is, and has been over the past two years, to be allowed to get to know you and consider you my friends-at-the-speed-of-email. My deep congratulations on your anniversary, may your sixth anniversary be celebrated somewhere much prettier and more restful. Until then, may you always feel loved and supported by your community all around the world.

    • Friends at the speed of email. Love it. Thanks, Marianne. Looking forward to hanging out with you one of these day.

  12. Sitting in my home in Vientiane thinking of the four of you and wishing you were here. I pass the little track to your house everyday, steal a glance at your place and wonder how you are all doing. Alas we need to be patient and let the black bags do their thing. As for your letters …, Mr Springstein says it much better than I …

    We said we’d walk together baby come what may
    That come the twilight should we lose our way
    If as we’re walking a hand should slip free
    I’ll wait for you
    And should I fall behind
    Wait for me

    We swore we’d travel darlin’ side by side
    We’d help each other stay in stride
    But each lover’s steps fall so differently
    But I’ll wait for you
    And if I should fall behind
    Wait for me

    Now everyone dreams of a love lasting and true
    But you and I know what this world can do
    So let’s make our steps clear that the other may see
    And I’ll wait for you
    If I should fall behind
    Wait for me

    Now there’s a beautiful river in the valley ahead
    There ‘neath the oak’s bough soon we will be wed
    Should we lose each other in the shadow of the evening trees
    I’ll wait for you
    And should I fall behind
    Wait for me
    Darlin’ I’ll wait for you
    Should I fall behind
    Wait for me

    Bruce Springsteen – If I Should Fall Behind

    • Never read the words to that song before. Beautiful. I’ll have to go listen to is now.

  13. This made me laugh and cry. Thank you for sharing. You are an awesome couple, may you have many, many more years together.


  1. Chemotherapy For Dummies: What does BEP do? | LisaMcKayWriting - [...] what on earth are we doing in our wedding clothes in the oncology ward? Read this post. var…
  2. A Year Of Awesome - LisaMcKayWriting | LisaMcKayWriting - […] in the same country today, but I’d still take this anniversary over the one two years ago when we…