What better time to discuss love, marriage and commitment than February, the month in which Valentine’s Day is celebrated. For those couples that hesitated to make the emotional commitment of matrimony the previous Christmas season, this is their second opportunity to do so during a holiday that’s sole focus is love and happiness.

Consider the wedding day. After much anticipation and planning, the big day finally arrives. It’s time for that ceremonial walk down the aisle. The bride and groom face each other and prepare to say their wedding vows. The have likely rehearsed and are familiar with what they have to say. But have they really studied the words? Do they understand the commitment they are about to make?

How many of us really paid attention to the words as we stated them in front of a member of the clergy or Justice of the Peace? Likely, very few of us…myself included!

For that reason, I believe it is important to review them once again.

Because no matter how strongly you believed in your vows at the time you stood across from each other and recited them, nothing tests your commitment to each other more than when one of you is informed by a member of the medical community that, “You have cancer.”

Let’s focus on a traditional version of the wedding vows and review their meaning:

Part 1: I (name) take thee, (name) to be my wedded (husband/wife)…

Yes, I admit it. I wondered if I was making a mistake. I was in love, but when you say you take a person to be your “wedded wife,” that was the biggest commitment I had ever made up to that point in my lifetime. It was hard to grasp the enormity of that statement. Until the words actually departed from my lips, I never truly considered it.

Today, my pledge has never wavered…not through my wife’s two episodes of cancer, her heart stopping and restarting in front of me, or the amputation of her leg due to the deadly disease. She is, and will always be “my wedded wife.”

Part 2: …to have and to hold from this day forward,

It’s not easy going from a single person to a married couple, where all decisions are suddenly made in tandem. This is forever. Part-time applicants need not apply.

These words are very important when cancer enters the picture. An instruction manual does not come with your marriage license. If one existed, I’m sure the words “abandon ship” are not included. Some take it upon themselves to do exactly that. However, “to have and to hold from this day forward” comes with no guarantees. And yet, it is forever.

Part 3: …for better, for worse,

Better or Worse

Some call it “for worse.” I look at it differently. There are many uphill climbs a loyal and dedicated married couple must make. While most couples hike up rolling hills, cancer patients and their caregivers have just been handed a roadmap with a sign that states, “This way to Mount Everest!”

When life deals you a bad hand, such as mesothelioma cancer, this is the most important time to remain closely aligned to each other. The pronoun “you” or “I” needs to be stricken from your vocabulary. Now, more than ever, the word “we” should be used at all times. “We are in this together! We are, and will remained married ‘for better, for worse’.”

Part 4: …for richer, for poorer,

Like many newlywed couples, I used to save for many of the materialistic items most couples envy. That mindset changed dramatically when cancer knocked on our door. What I learned is that cancer does not discriminate. It attacks everyone, no matter his or her social status or financial standing.

Without the health and wellbeing of your significant other, nothing else should matter.

Part 5: …in sickness or in health,


According to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (Nov. 10, 2009), a woman is six times more likely to be separated or divorced soon after a diagnosis of cancer or multiple sclerosis than if it occurs to a man in the relationship.

When making the commitment of “in sickness or in health” few consider what that means. Disappointingly, too many “healthy spouses” take the easy way out. They leave their “in sickness or in health” commitment behind, along with their once significant other. I find this to be deplorable.

Part 6: …to love and to cherish,

The second time my wife had cancer, I learned more about myself than I ever thought imaginable. She had only a 30 percent chance of survival. One physician stated he did not expect her to live long enough to celebrate the next holiday season, which was less than five months away.

At that moment, I found that I fell more in love and cherished my wife more intensely than I could have ever imagined. Rather than throw up my hands and accept defeat, I fought as if my very being was under attack. That one simple word, “cherish,” has been by my side since the day I uttered that word so many years ago. It will never depart.

Part Last: …'til death do us part.

The divorce rate in the United States in 2012 is 46 percent. It means that almost one in every two marriages, under normal conditions, will not last long enough to test the final portion of the marriage vow…the one that addresses mortality.

There are so many promises encased in these ceremonial wedding vows. The commitment is enormous. Imagine the strain cancer can place on the best and most loving relationship.

It is then that you truly grasp the meaning of your wedding vows and whether your commitment was truly “until death do us part.”

Rob Harris

About the author:

Rob Harris is a caregiver to his wife, Cindy, who is a two-time cancer survivor. Rob's professional areas of expertise include: strategic business partner, employee relations, stand-up trainer and course developer. In his spare time, Rob writes, blogs and enjoys cooking and sports. You can read more articles by Rob on his blog,