As tough a challenge as it is to break the news of cancer to your significant other, it’s unimaginably difficult to think of breaking this news to five partners. But, while there are more people who will be shaken by the knowledge their loved one has cancer, there are also more people available to support and assist you through treatment. Allena couldn’t imagine cancer without being poly and shares her unique experience and what she learned about non-monogamy, love and commitment while going through chemo.
So, do you remember when you got the news that you had cancer?
I had a date scheduled with a new guy, a potential partner. The date was at 4:30 p.m. and the phone rings at 4:22 — it’s Nurse Carol, calling about my recent mammogram. She just said ‘sit down’ then ‘you have cancer.’ I started to stammer — I was trying to ask if I was going to die. She told me what I had was highly treatable. She went on and I made some notes. And seven minutes go by and I am supposed to meet this guy. I had a moment where I thought, should I just go and act like nothing is wrong? But I call the date off, then realize, what am I going to do now? I called one of my partners, Jim, and I said ‘you need to come be with me, I have cancer.’
Wow, so what was the next step medically and with your relationships?
I went in and they found three more lumps. So I find out at Valentine’s Day that I don’t need a lumpectomy, I need a lobectomy, I was going to have one of my breasts removed.
The most incredible part was I never went to the oncologist, to chemo, or to surgery without one or more of my partners with me. When I went in for the lobectomy, in my tiny room, five of my lovers were there — Jim, Sophie (who is Jim’s primary), Travis, Sparrow and my girlfriend, Lady T. As they were wheeling me away, I showered each lover in kisses. The nurses did look at each other, like, ‘well this is strange.’
I imagine it must have helped your partners cope too, having each other there, to help keep each other sane.
Jim, who I have been with for 12 years, was hit the hardest. So having Sophie, his primary partner, there was so important. It gave him support so he could be strong for me. And what is interesting is that before this, Sophie and I were sometimes lovers, but she wasn’t one of my partners. We hadn't reached a point where we had a real depth in our relationship. It was going through the cancer that really cemented my love for her. Sophie is a massage therapist and really great with herbal remedies and natural treatments, so the first thing she did was go out and buy all these supplements she had read up on — and every week she refilled my vitamin jars.
Sophie even brought her daughter over. I had dyed my hair purple before it fell out so it would be fabulous and purple when it came out, and there was a point when I could just pull a little and a lot would fall in my hands, it was like a magic trick. So I did this for Sophie’s daughter and we bonded, she really got a kick out of it.
So did your poly values shape how you handled cancer?
In both cancer and love, for me it is about not being at the whims of society and what you are supposed to do, but being proactive and finding what really works for you, and I think being poly has a lot to do with shaping that idea.
So my chemo days were called tiara days, not chemo days. And everybody who came to visit me had to wear a tiara; even Jim, who is a big daddy bear type, wore one. Other people wore tiaras at work if they couldn’t come, one friend of mine who works on a ranch even wore a tiara to work on the tiara days.
What did cancer teach you about your partners?
I learned a lot about love and commitment and how committed these people truly are to me. One of the ideas people have about polyamory is “well you guys don’t know how to commit, that is why you are poly” I always knew that wasn’t true but here I was really seeing it, my partners were so committed to me, 100 percent.
|One of the things that’s hard on the partners of cancer patients is the affects cancer treatment has on the sex drive...did you experience this dip in libido?
Sadly, many people expect their one partner to be everything; that is sort of the default. To poly people, this idea of one partner being is understood to be impossible. When I reached a point where I did not have a sex drive, my partners were really understanding. And this is a bonus of being poly, we know we are not the sole sexual partner. I did not worry that my partners weren’t getting their sexual needs met. I also never lacked in the physical attention I needed, there was always someone when I needed cuddles. I never lacked for attention for my entire cancer experience, and that is a powerful place to come from.
My doctor was amazed by how healthy I was. I think part of it was the good nutrition that Sophie helped me with, but a lot of it was all the love and support around me. I even had my partners’ parents praying for me at Buddhist temples. It was amazing.
And here we see too how this is different from other forms of non-monogamy, like swinging.
Most people in the swing community do not have as close relationships with their sexual partners. Not the way poly people do, it is very different. I was always a proponent of the polyamorous lifestyle because it allowed this flow of people being able to be there for each other. And cancer just made me see this was all the more true.
How else did cancer shift your thinking?
I had some amazing blessings from cancer. Things came to me in my life that I would have never had otherwise. I would not have found this love and a partner in Sophie if it weren’t for this. And the wildest thing, right in the middle of all of this, I met a new partner.
He’s trans and an activist in the local sex community, he was making a documentary about sex in Seattle and interviewed me, then eventually asked me out. He came over and fixed me dinner on a chemo day, knowing I had no interest in sex. I had no hair, no eyelashes and one missing breast all the cultural markers of femininity. And here he was making me dinner, flirting with me. That made me feel pretty special.
Were you nervous taking on a new partner in the midst of all of this?
Oh yeah totally! I mean I had enough going on in my life, all of these people surrounding me, the cancer, so I was apprehensive. I was also nervous about my hair and missing breast and him seeing all that. But later, when we did have sex, he dove right for my scar — for my breast that is not there — my breast that I thought would not have any sexual feeling. But, all of a sudden so much feeling was awoken. We named them my boobie and my oobie, so he made love to my oobie. And now I know I’m not going to get the breast implant, I will just get some new tattoos instead.
So what made you add one more partner to the mix?
What cancer taught me is that life is unpredictable and short and that I will not deny myself something because of being too cautious. Life is short. Unpredictable. Damn it, I am gonna live my life fully 100 percent self-expressed at all times. That might mean saying yes to things that are scary. If things don’t turn out right, oh what the hell. Cancer turned out to be one of those things, I wouldn’t ever want to do it again, but I also wouldn’t change having had the experience.