Relationships and Cancer
- Grammy-winning artist Jon Batiste, 35, and author Suleika Jaouad, 33, secretly got married in an intimate cermeony in February right before Jaouad had a bone marrow transplant to treat her leukemia.
- Leukemia is a type of blood cancer. Symptoms vary depending on the type of leukemia, but general symptoms for the disease include: Fever or chills, persistent fatigue, weakness, frequent or severe infections, losing weight without trying, swollen lymph nodes, an enlarged liver or spleen, easy bleeding or bruising, recurrent nosebleeds, tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae), excessive sweating as well as bone pain or tenderness.
- Going through cancer treatment can be a very vulnerable and emotionally exhausting experience, so it can help to have a strong relationship to lean on for support. That being said, it’s important to notice what you have strength for and what is feeling like too much during your cancer journey – and that includes your relationships.
Jaouad first battled leukemia in her early 20s and now again in her early 30s. We don’t know too much about her ongoing cancer battle, but we do know the couple’s secret, intimate wedding in February helped Jaouas through her stem cell transplant – also called a bone marrow transplant.
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In a previous interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Jaouad shared that the ceremony helped get her through her bone marrow transplant – which can also be called a stem cell transplant.
“And I’ll tell you, we walked into that bone marrow transplant unit on cloud nine,” the Between Two Kingdoms author said. “We were so happy, so brimming with love and positivity from this beautiful evening that we’d had. And I really believe that that carried us through.”
Today, Batiste says his wife is “doing better,” and he’s amazed by her strength.
“Every single day we are praying and continuing the — I mean, she is incredible. You wouldn’t think that she is going through what she’s going through when you see her,” Batiste told PEOPLE. “She has this ability to take the toughest challenges and make it life-affirming. So, with her it’s a special case. How she’s doing, it’s a Suleika thing.”
Leukemia is a blood cancer that develops when the body produces large quantities of abnormal white blood cells. These cells prevent the bone marrow from producing any other type of cell including red blood cells and platelets.
“One cell got really selfish and decided that it needed to take up all the resources of everybody else, and, in doing so, took up space and energy from the rest of the body,” Dr. Nina Shah, a hematologist at University of California San Francisco, explained.
In a more general sense, blood cancer means that your bone marrow is not functioning properly.
“And when your bone marrow doesn’t function correctly, it means that you can have something happen to you like anemia,” she said. “Or you can have low platelets, which makes it possible for you to bleed easily. Or your immune system is not functioning correctly.”
Symptoms of leukemia can vary depending on the type of leukemia. Common signs and symptoms of the disease include:
- Fever or chills
- Persistent fatigue, weakness
- Frequent or severe infections
- Losing weight without trying
- Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen
- Easy bleeding or bruising
- Recurrent nosebleeds
- Tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae)
- Excessive sweating, especially at night
- Bone pain or tenderness
These signs and symptoms are not exclusive to leukemia, but if you notice them or any other changes to your health you should see your doctor promptly.
Relationships and Cancer
It’s no secret that fighting cancer can be overwhelming, so having physical and emotional support during your battle is crucial. That being said, it’s very important to know your limits on what you can handle – including relationships – during treatment.
“Going through treatment is a very vulnerable and emotionally exhausting experience,” licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Marianna Strongin wrote in a column for SurvivorNet. “Noticing what you have strength for and what is feeling like too much… [is] extremely important to pay attention to as you navigate treatment.”
Dr. Strongin does note, however, that having people by your side during this “arduous chapter” of your life can be hugely beneficial.
“Studies have found consistently that loneliness is a significant risk factor for physical and mental illnesses and the trajectory of recovery,” she wrote. “Therefore, it will be important that you surround yourself with individuals who care and support you throughout your treatment.”
For actress and melanoma survivor Jill Kargman, cancer was a true test of the strength for her relationship. In an earlier interview with SurvivorNet, Kargman says the disease “is a great way to find out if you’re with the love of your life or a shithead.”
“I think it presses the fast forward button on getting to the bottom of that answer, because a lot of people in middle age are kind of at a crossroads, waiting for their kids to fly the coop,” Kargman said. “I think if you’re with someone who is not supportive and kind of emotionally checked out or doesn’t tell you you’re still beautiful with that, this might not be your person.”