Modern Love Season 2: An Interview with Mary Elizabeth Williams
In her 2014 Modern Love essay, “A Second Embrace, With Hearts and Eyes Open,” writer Mary Elizabeth Williams tells the story of rekindling her marriage only to discover, shortly after, that she was suffering from melanoma. smart. Suddenly their future looked very different from their past.
Miya Lee and I recently met four writers whose essays inspired episodes of the second season of the “Modern Love” television series on Amazon Prime Video. Below is my conversation with Ms. Williams, whose episode stars Sophie Okonedo and Tobias Menzies. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You can also read my interview with writer, actor and director Andrew Rannells (“During a night of casual sex, urgent messages go unanswered”) and Miya Lee’s interviews with Katie Heaney (“Am I gay or straight ? Me “) and Amanda Gefter (” The night girl finds a day boy “).
Daniel Jones: Your essay was published seven years ago, and it was about events that took place years before. Can you give us an update on where you are now with your marriage, your health and your family?
Mary Elizabeth Williams: My husband and I are still together. One of our daughters is in high school and the other in college. Like everyone else, we are just emerging from a long period of forced closeness in a tiny New York City apartment where one person works in a space, one person works a few feet away, someone else is. is coaching and someone else is doing academic work. Everything was chaotic.
Over the past few years, we have had a lot of challenges and sorrows and difficult experiences regarding our health and our work and the health of our loved ones. And it’s funny, because in the midst of feeling trapped over the past year or so, I always wake up in the morning and choose to be here with this person. Those times when I’m looking at someone and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m here on purpose” – maybe not the sexiest thing to think about someone, but I also feel like that it is probably the most important.
How does it feel to write about something so personal, even as a writer?
The day I was diagnosed with cancer I told very few people about it and even said to my husband, “I don’t think I’m going to share this because I don’t want this. change the way people see me. It’s a bell that I won’t be able to remove.
The next day I went to Sloan Kettering’s, and that night I wrote an essay called “My Cancer Diagnosis” which was published in the morning. So, within 48 hours of my diagnosis, I published my first cancer essay. Clearly, I don’t know how not to talk about my life.
What type of cancer did you have?
Metastatic melanoma. Melanoma is a very common skin cancer. Metastatic melanoma is not. This is when the cancer has spread to your organs. And the thing about melanin is you have it everywhere, so cancer can go anywhere. When you get it, it can quickly be fatal. Typically, by the time I got it, you had about seven months to live. My cancer had spread to my lungs and soft tissues. You could see it on my body.
How was he treated?
I first had the operation. This was before it spread. I had a large circle protruding from the top of my head. Then a year later I had a recurrence, and by then the cancer was spreading everywhere and moving very quickly. That’s when my oncologist told me, “We are recruiting for a clinical trial. You should talk to people in the field of clinical trials.
They had just approved the first immunotherapy treatment for melanoma in over 30 years. To be accepted, I had to pass a bunch of tests; it’s really hard to get into clinical trials. It shouldn’t be. But I was in good shape, had a flexible schedule and met all the conditions – you must be sick but otherwise in good shape and not have had any other treatment. So I got into the trial and felt it worked after the first treatment. I was cancer free the first time I had the scans, 12 weeks later. And I have been cancer free for nine years.
Speaking of your successful experience with the clinical trial, are you worried about giving people false hope?
I’m glad you brought it up. I am extremely aware that I am unusual. And I never want to give people false hope. I want them to have hope and to know that there are options. But also, hope can be for different things, be it in your relationship or your health, and sometimes you just hope for a little more time. It’s like I always say: the death rate for being a human is 100%. If you are lucky you can postpone this to get more of the good stuff. And I hope you get more great things with the people you love, give them great memories, and leave something better than what you started.
What was the impact of publishing your essay in Modern Love?
I got messages from so many people that I hadn’t heard from in years, who didn’t know about the breakup, didn’t know I had been sick, didn’t know and was like, wow , you ‘ve really experienced it. And then there was the response from the readers who saw different parts of themselves – in the relationship, but particularly in the disease, in this cancer story. People seeing an illness love affair that wasn’t sticky and sentimental.
You and your husband have never divorced; you broke up. Did it make it easier to get back into marriage?
I guess if you think of it as a hindsight, but I don’t. I consider it a step forward. This relationship has ended. And what happened next was different and new. For me, it was important to feel that I wasn’t backing down. It was about moving forward, being in a different place in life, and having different expectations, understanding and respect.
I wanted to tell a story about the kind of tender and unique love that you see when things are horrible. Unsexy situations like when he has to go out and buy you stool softeners. It’s a unique kind of romance. I hope that for the men who read it, they got to see each other – and see that being caring, caring and capable is the most loving gesture in the world.
Daniel Jones is the editor of Modern Love. Mary Elizabeth Williams is writer and author of “A Series of Disasters and Miracles: A True Story of Love, Science and Cancer”.
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