By Marnie Andrews
Jumping Through Hoops and Over Brooms
Four old friends navigate caring for their spouses during cancer treatment
By Marnie Andrews
The four of us stood inside a yellow hula hoop, laughing so hard we had to hold on to one another and the hoop to remain standing. We had all studied as actresses at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1969. And for this weekend in July 2000, at Sandbridge Beach, Va., we came together again to celebrate Sybil Rosen’s 50th birthday. For three days, the four of us—Sybil, Mina Penland Fuller, Katherine Cortez and I—had the luxury of talks, beach walks, cooking and being silly. In that hula hoop moment, which Sybil later referred to as the “sacred hoop,” we acknowledged our joy in one another.
Six years after that birthday laugh, we met again, in Whitesburg, Ga., to celebrate Sybil’s marriage. A lot had changed: During the years since the “sacred hoop,” each of us had nursed our mates through their discovery and treatment of cancer. And this coincidence of caretaking had given us a new perspective on our friendships and our marriages. We each had faced individual challenges over the last few years, but as we acknowledged during Sybil’s wedding weekend, we had found support in one another.
SYBIL ROSEN THOMAS, A NOVELIST AND PLAYWRIGHT, had decided with Glyn Thomas to celebrate their marriage with a broom-jumping ceremony over Independence Day weekend in 2006. The custom of broom jumping has several origins, primarily in African and African-American culture, though also in some early European cultures. During the ceremony, a couple jumps over a broom placed on the ground or held by their guests, to confirm their commitment to each other.
Sybil and Glyn are of Jewish and Welsh heritage. Glyn told me after the wedding that broom jumping was also popular in hippie days. “It was a good way of getting married without getting married,” he said. “To say, ‘We’re serious, whether legally married or not, and everyone should enjoy the time.’ ”
Sybil, now age 57, was the last of us four friends to marry. Glyn, a groom for the fourth time at 73, opted in 2005 to use implanted radioactive seeds, a treatment known as brachytherapy, to treat his prostate cancer. It was going through that process with Sybil that made him aware he wanted her to help with his decisions throughout the rest of his life. He proposed a few months after treatment.
“We had a good thing going,” said Glyn. “I was afraid I would spoil it by getting formal about it. Sybil was the first friend I ever married. I didn’t want to destroy our friendship by being presumptuous. But I had already made Sybil the responsible person, in case of pulling the plug. So I thought, ‘I’ll chance messing with the spider web,’ so she had something, some resources to handle it if I got down and couldn’t get up. I sprang it on her one morning.”
“The process of treatment was very positive for us,” Sybil added. “We became a team. Also, it’s important to realize that Glyn is older than any of us. He spent the last part of his 60s alone and making peace with the eventuality of death. I had to let him choose what was right for him.”