010: Fearing Love in the Loss of Cancer

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

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Episode Summary:

Cancer is loss. Loss of self, of confidence, of stability, and even of relationships. It is difficult to create a space for vulnerability, and it is a heavy decision to allow love in the midst of uncertainty when one of the losses you face is yourself. Tammey and Griff reflect on their relationship, starting out as friends and transitioning to love. They discuss the pain, the fear, the frustrations, the loss and the gains in this very real and very heartfelt episode.

Topics in this Episode:

  • Intro

  • A guide through hardship

  • Purposeful detachment

  • For you: I will fight!

  • The skills of suffering

  • Fear of the unknown vs. the power of Spiritual certainty

  • Afraid to hope?

  • The prize of privation

  • A vantage point of helplessness

  • Know thyself and thy partner!

  • A Thousand little things

  • Most wounds are hidden

  • Irrational Selfishness

  • Equally yoked

  • Requirements for success

  • Sign off

Contact Information and Social Links:


A special thank you to our sponsor, Riverdance Soapworks. Handcrafted products we personally use. Visit www.riverdancesoapworks.com and let them know you heard about them from Tammey.



Tammey Grable-Woodford: Hello and welcome to your killer life. We are so excited to have you join us on this next episode. I am one of your hosts today, Tammey Grable-Woodford.

Griff Woodford: I am Griff Woodford.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: And we are excited to be talking with you today about the fear of love and bonding and commitment in the midst of loss and trauma. And specifically, of course, with breast cancer. On episode eight, we talked about sex and intimacy and oh, sort of recovering those aspects of, of life.

We mentioned, but we didn't really dig into the fact that I really did have a hard time with bonding. And you had sort of decided to step in, which was amazing. And, and with, for those that didn't listen to that episode. My ex-husband had asked for a divorce a couple of weeks before my diagnosis. He, uh, pretty much I had let him know that I thought I had breast cancer and had made the doctor appointment and he didn't make it to the starting line on that.

And then a few months, and we were already friends. And for some reason you decided to step up and step in, and maybe we'll talk a little bit about that too, but I also, and that's sort of the reason for, for this episode, I was very guarded and not wanting to love or invite intimacy, that type of intimacy into my life.

Griff Woodford: I would add to that from, from my perspective, uh, beginning the relationship, which at first was of course friendship. And I, I don't really want to say like a, um, a guidance type relationship, but there's, you know, the deep friendship and then realizing that you are, you are now in crisis and you're alone.

My... not the only reason, but I will say one of the, uh, more important reasons. And one of the reasons that allowed me to. I guess be able to understand some of the difficulties for you is because I have had a life that is, consistent in hardship, certainly up until we met and knowing what it does take to get out of that, to recover from it and still be able to, um, pursue a, a healthy, happy life.

A guide through hardship

You know, I, I know and knew how to navigate suffering. It's a skill, quite frankly, it's, it's a trained in practice skill, uh, which most people really aren't aware of. Whether out of necessity or, or refusal. So a large portion of me going into that role is knowing that you needed help and knowing that of anyone else I knew, I would be the best fit for that.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: So one of the things that we've not talked about yet on the podcast is that you also have experienced loss through cancer.

Griff Woodford: Yes.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: And you have seen what that looks like as a person goes from being diagnosed to, to saying goodbye.

Griff Woodford: Yes.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: And I know for me, part of why I didn't want to bond with anyone is because I didn't want to allow someone to love me.

Griff Woodford: And then lose that I haven't taken. Yes. Yeah. You know, and that's to anyone listening and obviously to you, that is a very natural response. I mean, I've, I can think of a few times and instances in my own life where I refused attachment based on what I was doing, the danger in, what I was doing, whether it's a career occupation, or just, just bad choices.

But, uh, no. And so I, I certainly. Recognize that and did what I could to address it, of course. But again, having, having seen the process before with, with, um, very close, loved ones who, who were killed by the disease or the treatment of the disease, just knowing that because what it looked like you were going to be facing that you couldn't do it alone.

And if I... needed to even just be a stepping stone for you to recover. Then that was, uh, I was happy with that. In fact, in the beginning, that was really kind of the, the outlook on the relationship is, you know, it doesn't matter if this goes into something romantic or it goes into a marriage. That's not why I'm here it's that I, I know I can fill a very specific role for you because you are in dire need of it.

And. You know that, uh, that allowed me to persevere when things were really hard.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: So I'm still all of these years later amazed that with the very personal and close, loved ones that you have lost and going through that, that you, you did decide that, "Hey, I could do this again, and I can risk this, this part of me." And I did not make it easy on you.

Griff Woodford: No, not at first.

Purposeful detatchment

Tammey Grable-Woodford: I know for me, there was not just the fear of hurting you. And the, the pain and loss on your end. I mean, to me, that felt unjust and unfair. And so it wasn't something that I wanted to do to someone. And I think part of that is because I had felt so abandoned. And so, you know, I di.. I did not want to put that on someone else.

I didn't want to open that door for someone else. And then my family, right? Like seeing their reaction and their pain to my diagnosis and the fear of loss and, and how they were dealing with it. I just really could not think of anything more painful to do to someone than to allow it at that moment. And so I really did emotionally block love and...

I know we're not going to talk about drugs on this episode. And we are going to talk about that on a future episode, that helped me in some ways to continue to be numb, you know, postoperatively with narcotics and...

Griff Woodford: Sure, yeah.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: All of the stuff that was tossed at me, which we dubbed the Elvis Presley repair kit. So, um, so that helped me to maintain that distance, but that really was such a hard thing for me.

And then on top of that, I was already experiencing so much loss in my life. Loss of career, loss of future...

Griff Woodford: ...20 year marriage. Yeah.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Right!

Griff Woodford: So all of the above, but pretty much every... discernible aspect of your life, something was being actively taken from you or had already been taken.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yes. And that trauma, I will say it continues even now, you know, there, there are things that. I don't want to say self-sabotage, but it might come across that way, like getting fit again, because you've been with me throughout all this, like I would just get momentum back and then I would get hit with another surgery or something like that.

So it was just constantly this reclamation and loss and reclamation and loss and reclamation and loss. And I was just, yeah.

Griff Woodford: Yes. Yeah. I'd you the question of, if you can recall, what was the defining moment where that wall dropped, where you realized for whatever reason that this was, this was worth the investment and what were the catalysts to that?

For you: I will fight

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Was always worth the investment. It was whether or not it was worth the risk and that your persistence, I think, more than anything. And then you opening up and letting me know. I think once I understood your background with your grandmother and with your dad, your stepdad, that, that I understood. And also getting to know you better, knowing you as a friend is one thing.

Being abandoned like that at the beginning of my diagnosis really damaged my ability to trust that anyone would be there...

Griff Woodford: Oh, sure... yeah...

Tammey Grable-Woodford: ...and you know, you and I had conversations, you know, no joke. Like I'll just Uber back from the, O.R. tomorrow it's, it's fine. I'll figure it out on my own. Right. But. You just kept showing me that I could depend on you.

And you just kept showing me that you were up for the challenge and willing to accept that loss. But probably what really changed it is the moment that I realized that you, you were on my side. And you were true to your word and that you mentally could handle it.

And so we, we went through a lot of things. I mean, it was probably, I don't know if you remember, but it was probably a good year of me being like, okay, kid, whatever. Right? Like,

Griff Woodford: Yeah. Yeah. That's maybe a little bit less, but yeah, within that, certainly within that frame. Yeah.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah. So it really was just sort of this realization of, of your, your tenacity, that you're just sticking with it. And, at some point, I finally felt safe and it was that safety that, which was so scary to be vulnerable enough to allow the feeling of safety. I cannot stress that.

Griff Woodford: Yeah, I think that there are a lot of really important takeaway. Ways from both side of this conversation for our listeners, particularly ones who are going through, you know, a long-term or chronic diseases, cancer, the list goes on and all the effects that coincide with that of, um, particularly on the, well, not particularly, but within both parties is understanding that this is, these are genuine hurdles that every person will face.

And to think that, that it doesn't apply or that it's not applicable, or that there aren't skills that are required in order to navigate this successfully is that is frankly self-sabotaging whether through naivety or just unwillingness to, to believe the, uh, the actual reality. So you don't transpose that to others, particularly in the beginning of a, a long-term disease.

And I mean, you know, in our case, we're a little bit different as it wasn't just the beginning of a long-term disease. It was the beginning of a romantic relationship, you know? So it was this... you know kind of exponentially more difficult scenario. I mean, it's a, I won't say typically, but very often, or I suppose the most relatable is people have been together for three, five, six, eight, 12 years.

You know? I mean, we think about like average age of, uh, long-term illness, diagnosis, you know, I mean that typically indicative of someone or a couple who's been together for a little while. So there's, there's already this kind of assumed safety from both people, you know, you've been around each other enough to know that you can be relied on even if only for, you know, for certain things.

That begins to change when that disease does... well, I guess the process is also the disease, now begin to take the center stage of daily life. Because it's, it's not what that relationship is based on. It's not what that relationship is used to. So understanding the individual realities for both people, um, the, uh, the victim of the disease, the... well that, that fear and that unwillingness to put someone else through that, through the potential of loss.

That's a real thing. That's a very human thing. It's, it's, um, probably call that a, a unilateral feeling for people, especially for those who really care about each other. You know? I mean, I, I love you. I don't want to cause you harm. So go away. You know, you don't want to be here for this where in reality, yeah, we do. Yes. We do want to be here for this and it's not your decision, ultimately. To say I can or cannot love you and support you through this,

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Oh, my goodness. So you saying just that actually brings tears to my eyes because so many times you would say to me,

Griff Woodford: ...not your choice.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: ...it's not your choice. You don't get to tell me who to love you. You don't get to tell me.

Griff Woodford: Right.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: And that was, that was a big part of it because wanting to put up that wall for both of us was definitely something... you know... that I, that I was desperately trying to do.

And you, you weren't having it.

Griff Woodford: No. Nope.

The skills of suffering

Tammey Grable-Woodford: He was not having it. So. Oh, there is so much with, with that loss and with that fear and introducing someone into your life and you're right. We, you know, we didn't have that existing relationship, you know, that longstanding years of knowing what to expect. And so, you know, you, you just kind of jumped in and were learning to figure this out and what to expect.

And in some ways you knew what to expect from cancer and the treatment side more than I did.

Griff Woodford: Right. No, I, I understood the, um, the physical processes, the, the medical processes. Um, you know what, well, again, what to expect physically and to, to a degree, uh, emotionally and psychologically, you know, I saw the suffering that my, my stepdad and my, my grandmother went, went through. Both of whom were, were very impactful in my life and I was very close to.

I think, well, another part of that, because of that experience, I noticed that people who were, who were close to....to those, those people did withdraw there, there were people who just didn't come around anymore. And to a degree, uh, I was, I was one of them with my grandma in particular because of my age.

I was very young and my dad had just been killed a couple of years prior that, I mean, it was just more than I could deal with. Like I just, I, not just not knowing what to do, but just not knowing how to cope with the, the fear and the, the feelings of predetermined loss that were so present every time that I would be just be in the same room with Gram and knowing that other people are going to do the same thing to you.

And that's a terrible place to, to imagine yourself as the person who has had no choice, they've had no say in the matter whether or not they get this illness and to be left like that because, and, you know, for a very human reason and then not for, not out of spite or anger or anything like that, just these are things that, um, that really do require skill and practice in navigating.

And that's some of our earlier podcasts was, you know, that difference between strength and hardness and the matrices of those, you know, the, the aspect of being hard and that often will... will include or yeah, would include, you know, the use of substances to try and deal, like just not wanting to be present in that crucible.

Which again, it's a very human response, you know, and that's and in some ways, my, my view of illnesses like that, or just loss in general to suffering in general is it is it's training. You are being trained to be able to step up to the person who really matters the most to you, who really needs you the most. And that was again, the, the initial desire to be that person for you, because I knew I could be there even just for the fact that I'm still alive and not incarcerated.

I know that I have skills and I have practice in those skills that you don't have.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Were you scared?

Griff Woodford: Well, define scared. What does that mean? I think there's a lot of things to be scared of, but when you, what is your definition of that?

Fear of the unknown vs. the power of spiritual certainty

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Well, the context of it, is just emotionally opening yourself to relationship and, and having that taken away. Was that something that, that... you emotionally had to somehow process. I don't know if scared would be the right word.

Griff Woodford: There was only one time. A single time. And that is when you called me saying that had just been diagnosed. Remember, I was at the burger stand. I just got back from like the first like pin and stretch massage I did. And, um, you know, you, you said. That's a huge mass it's stage three, maybe stage four... and just like that un... the, the initial uncertainty of, well, that sounds lethal to me. You know, based on the experiences in particular with cancer that I'd had. That sounds like a death sentence.

So that initial, before there was any other information before there was any reading of notes or data or procedural doctrine or anything like that, there was that fear of your, your time is short.

But it w... you know, again, when I think of fear, particularly in that context, it's not... I don't think it was ever fear of my own loss. It was fear of yours. Fear of you losing something. You losing your life, losing happiness, direction, hope. You know, it was what that diagnosis would mean to you, in that moment.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: So later as we stepped into a relationship, which you were, you know, willing to do before me, did it ever cross your mind that, that it would come to an untimely end. Was that ever a concern or a fear?

Griff Woodford: No actually, and I remember, you and I had kind of went round around about that in particular for awhile of, you know, me being... me knowing that you're going to be fine.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Right.

Griff Woodford: And you refusing to believe that on the basis of how do you know, how do you know? You know? Well, it's the same reason. I know that the sun is going to rise in the East and set in the West tomorrow.

It's the same reason I know that ...same reason, I know that. I love you. Like there... there's nothing tangible, tangible about that. There's no proof that I love you, but I know that subconscious, that pre-conscious that spiritual voice, that deeper connection to the world in which you live, the electromagnetic vibrational fields, however, you know, pick a culture and they'll describe it to you in a different way.

But that certainty.

Not based on data or fact, but that certainty based on everything that, you know, on a subconscious level that you are going to be fine.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: It's interesting because I do remember those conversations and being absolutely pissed off that you would say that. (both laughing)

Griff Woodford: Yeah. I know. I know. Yeah. I remember.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Because how could you know? And you don't know, and how dare you tell me that I'm going to be okay. And how dare you try and give me hope in the midst of this, because you don't know, you don't know.

And I think there's, there are probably a few of my breasties out there listening that are going, "Exactly. You don't know! How dare you say that. How dare you, give me more false promise and more false hope when you can not quantify, or guarantee, or promise that this is going to be a thing." And it is such a difficult place to be.

Afraid to hope?

And, and that's. You know, that's, again, that fear of, of love in the midst of loss.

You just are surrounded. It's like your, your life is just crumbling around you. You don't want to put any hope into something that might not be there.

Griff Woodford: Yeah.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Men included.

Griff Woodford: Yeah, certainly. I mean, I, you know, I think that's just kind of the default setting for people in general. You know, once you reach a certain... reach a certain point of trauma or loss, or just being completely overwhelmed that, um, the, the idea of feeling hopeful about anything feels like a betrayal,

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yes.

Griff Woodford: ...but again, back to my very first premise of, because of all the suffering that I've endured and the way that I've managed to kind of see my way through it in a positive sense is understanding that hope is the most important aspect of going through something like that. And even whether it's not hope of surviving something, you know, we all, none of us get out of this alive, but the hope of, because I'm going through, fill in the blank, I will be better at fill in the blank because of it.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Right.

The Prize of Privation

Griff Woodford: And that was another very definitive aspect of, of, um, my prerogative of our relationship. This every day is hard. Every day is uncertainty. Every day in some aspect is potential fear, of potential loss. But knowing that by me, exposing myself to that, and not just as an individual, but as a unit that... that strengthens us, that makes us stronger, that makes us more capable, that makes us wiser.

And through that strength, wisdom, and capability... hope just materializes.

Having the ability to take that brief step out of yourself and realize where you actually are, as opposed to where you might feel like you are, realize that you are still standing and you can still smile, and you do love each other.

You know, those are all really significant gifts. And the fact that, both or either of us, were able to do that in the midst of all of that. That is a tremendous gift.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: It really is. You had sort of back to that confidence that you had, that everything is going to be fine. It was last year. I think that you admitted that every time I went into surgery, which really felt like all the time

Griff Woodford: right... (both laughing)

Tammey Grable-Woodford: ...it did every three to six months, here we go again...

Griff Woodford: Yep...

A vantage point of helplessness

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Every time I went into surgery, that was also a moment of fear because that was the riskiest.

Griff Woodford: Yeah, that was really, um... I remember a couple of other individual instances where that, that touch of fear occurred. But that was certainly the most consistent one because I, I have a pretty good idea of what goes into surgery. And because you, I mean, you didn't go through the chemo or radiation, but you are still immune compromised.

You still have inherent weaknesses within the system because of all the... just a physical trauma you've been suffering, that you're that much more susceptible to a microgram worth of miscalculation in anesthesia. You know, a surgeon who's been up for 18 hours as opposed to eight hours, you know, there's so many variables that really have hardly anything to do with the disease itself and that neither of us have any control over or any even real knowledge of, you know, it's something that we don't get to... we don't get to ask how, how well have you slept doctor?

You know, just those small things like that. And because of my background, um, in special operations and in the U S military, uh, I learned that that's how things go catastrophic. Is the inability to, um, to address the small details, you know, that cascading effect of missing one thing here, and then another thing there, or misjudging something, you know, um, the, the devil being in the details as it were.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Right.

Griff Woodford: um, that was, that was the most apprehensive and, and... this is just going to sound a little bit arrogant, but, uh, because that was the one part of, of you and I, that I, I did not have any say in, I didn't have any direct hands on ability to correct a problem when you were behind the curtain. Everywhere else, I could apply input. I could apply my skills, my attention to detail, my intuition based on what I know of you.

You know, being able to just know when you're hurting from across the room without having to say anything. Like, know, know before you do that, you are in pain somewhere. And know I can, I can address that. So there's, again, just that feeling of, I don't have the ability to influence this, this particular part and it's an important part.

So that was where those moments of fear would come from. Yeah.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah, that was... and I was pleasantly clueless because I had never had a major anything before... I had never broken a bone. I hadn't had, um, I think I had had general anesthesia one other time, and that's when I had a foot surgery. And so, but which was really minor and not that general anesthesia is ever minor.

Griff Woodford: Minor. Right.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah. That is kind of a big thing. Um, and trust me, the first time as we're talking intubation with the anesthesiologist and I'm like, wait, what, you're going to, what.

Griff Woodford: Yeah, they, they do lots of stuff to you and you're asleep.

Know thyself and thy partner!

Tammey Grable-Woodford: No idea. And it's interesting because we are going to do an episode on pain because it's not arrogant at all. When you say you realizing that I'm in pain before I would, because I had gotten to the point where pain had become my 24/7/365 companion. And I had adapted to it and I would push through and just try and ignore it.

And you would see where it was sort of crossing over...

Griff Woodford: Yeah...

Tammey Grable-Woodford: ...with. And I'll never forget the time. I shouldn't spoil that episode, but I'll never forget the time you were like, no, you need to take something. You need to take something. And I had worked all day and whatever. And I finally took one of my pain meds and like 30 minutes later, I felt my face relax.

Griff Woodford: Mmhmm....

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Like that's how much pain I had in my body. And it's something that I also don't think gets discussed enough. So we'll do an episode on that. You know, when you asked me earlier sort of, you know, well, how did you know, and, and when did, when did you finally realize that you're going to be here and that I can count on you

A thousand little things.

Griff Woodford: Right?

Tammey Grable-Woodford: ...and it's, it's sort of those thousand little things. It's the...

Griff Woodford: Yeah.

Tammey Grable-Woodford: ....it is because, you know, I think back to just examples of... as odd as this sounds like, you know, you become the boob inspector and not in the way that every, all the guys would be thinking. Yay.

Griff Woodford: Yeah. Not what's on the mug... no. (both laughing)

Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah, right. It's I can't feel, I can't see underneath half the time, especially post-op, you know, I'm not necessarily a hundred percent there because of the narcotics and pain or just, you know, coming out of surgery, which you were always so good at reminding me...

Because I am impatient, and I am capable, and I have not ever had to depend on someone like I was required to do throughout some of this process. And that was also very hard for me. So that was probably another part of why I put up that wall.

But. You having to be the one to look at sutures and look at the bruising and look at the places that I couldn't see when I couldn't wash my hair because I had Tyrannosaurus X arms and you're like, that's okay. I'll figure it out and washing my hair. You know, it's all of those... so... they, they can sound so minor and yet they're so meaningful.

Griff Woodford: They're big deals in the, in the moment and both proceeding and afterward they're big deals. And I think that's actually probably something that will be really helpful to viewers, particularly ones that are going through similar circumstances is, you know, you, you don't get to that level of, of intimacy and trust and safety.

It just... in... general security and dependability by one big grand gesture. You know, that's, that's not a quantifiable resource for putting your faith in somebody.

It's the, the thousand little wins. The... you know, thousands of those little bits of attention to detail that seem relatively innocuous in the, in the moment enough that you, you noticed them and you're aware of them, but don't seem to have a tremendous amount of impact.