When Lorraine Downes and Martin Crowe married five years ago, along with the traditional vows, they made some promises specially written for each other.
“One of the things I said was that our marriage would never be boring,” says Lorraine. “Well, it certainly hasn’t been that!”
As the couple prepare to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary on Valentine’s Day, Lorraine can smile about the irony of that particular vow when, in fact, she and Martin have been on an emotional roller coaster ride since the former cricket player was diagnosed with the blood cancer lymphoma 15 months ago.
Martin’s doctors initially recommended taking a “watch and wait” approach to the cancer, which was lying dormant, but just before Christmas 2012 a large tumour was found in his stomach and he needed six cycles of chemotherapy to try to reduce it.
The treatment made him very sick and weak, but throughout it all Lorraine was by his side, accompanying him to every chemo session and being there with him through the worst of the vomiting, nausea and extreme fatigue.
It really was a true test of the “in sickness and in health” vows they made when they married at a friend’s beachside home in Omaha on February 14, 2009.
“When you say these words you’re thinking about happiness and health – that’s the easy part,” says Lorraine (49). “But when one of you gets a serious disease like cancer, that’s when you have to honour that promise to stand by them ‘in sickness’.
“For me, it was easy. When someone you love is going through something so terrible you just want to do everything you can to help them. You just don’t even think about it.”
“Lorraine has just been incredible,” says Martin (51), smiling at his wife. “I could not have got through this without her. She is such an amazing person.”
“You would have done the same thing if it was me,” Lorraine says to him. “That’s what love is about.”
She never faltered, or thought being there for her husband was just too hard, even though their “normal existence” was completely turned upside down.
“It was difficult for me to watch how the chemo affected Marty,” admits the former Miss Universe. “But one of the good things that came out of it was knowing in my heart that my love for him was so real. I had no doubt about that. Our love didn’t really change throughout everything, except perhaps to grow even stronger than it was. I think we’ve grown as individuals and as a couple because of what we’ve been through.”
The deep bond between them is obvious as they talk to the Weekly about their relationship and the impact Martin’s illness has had on it. They’re clearly on the same wavelength – they finish each other’s sentences – and frequently exchange small, tender smiles. Among the serious moments there are some lighthearted ones too.
When the photos are being taken, photographer Monty Adams asks Martin and Lorraine to sit on the sofa the way they would if they were relaxing in the evening in front of the TV. Lorraine swivels around and plonks her feet in Martin’s lap, and he immediately begins massaging them. “See – I know my place!” says Martin, grinning.
They have been able to find things to laugh about, despite the trauma they’ve been through since Martin’s diagnosis in October 2012, and also to be grateful for.
Martin says having cancer was a blessing because it gave him a huge wake-up call that made him re-evaluate his life and the person he had become. He’d begun counselling before he met Lorraine because he’d recognised that years of listening to the “negative chatter” in his mind and bottling up his feelings had turned him into someone he didn’t like very much. But the lymphoma diagnosis really made him confront his emotional issues head-on, and start to make some very necessary changes.
Having an understanding Lorraine by his side while he did that made a world of difference.
“Getting sick made me realise I had to find some self-acceptance and change a lot of things about myself that had made me sick,” says Martin.
“Lorraine had always talked about the importance of being true to yourself and keeping things real, and I needed to do that. Without my love for Lorraine and the strength of our relationship I wouldn’t have had that example to emulate. That accelerated my healing.”
Lorraine says she’s delighted to see how far Martin has come.
“I always knew he had this restlessness in him, and that he needed to deal with it. I am so happy he has done that and found peace. Something fantastic has come out of him getting cancer. I look at all he has been through and I think he has grown so much in such a beautiful way.”
After the chemo finished in May it took the rest of the year for Martin’s immune system to kick back in and his energy to return from the gruelling drug treatments. Thankfully they were successful and recent tests show the tumour has gone. Although the lymphoma can’t be cured, it could, hopefully, be a long time before it causes more problems.
In the meantime Martin, who has recently set up his own mentoring and coaching business, is doing his best to stay as healthy as possible.
He is eating a nutritious diet that includes lots of raw foods, exercising and meditating, and Lorraine, an image consultant, is supporting him through all of it.
She’s quick to point out that it is not a one-way street. Martin has been there for her during recent tough times, including when her mum, Glad, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I definitely married the right man!” she smiles.
The pair first met in 1990 when they co-presented an in-house corporate video for a bank. It was to be another 11 years before their paths crossed again and they got in touch via a mutual friend. Both were single and they went out for lunch and a movie, but the timing wasn’t right for romance.
“I had only recently come out of my marriage,” says Lorraine. “There were still a lot of things I needed to work through.”
Fast forward to November 2005 and fate intervened when they found themselves staying at the same Christchurch hotel.
This time there was no denying the mutual attraction, and their relationship flourished – even though it had to be a long-distance one for the first couple of years as Lorraine lived in Wellington, while Martin was in Auckland.
“After I got divorced I was on my own for six years and I did eventually get to the stage where I thought I’d love to be in another loving relationship,” says Lorraine. “For Marty to come into my life… I feel very lucky.”
“I’m the one who got lucky,” chips in Martin. “The luckiest man on the planet.”
While luck might have played a part in them getting together, it’s not responsible for the success of their marriage. That’s largely due to their strong foundation of love, trust and respect, and making the effort to nurture their relationship.
“We know a close, loving relationship is something you have to work at,” says Lorraine.
Another crucial element is being compatible, they say.
“We’ve always been very like-minded when it comes to what’s important,” says Lorraine. “For example, truth and honesty are the top of our list of what really matters. Having the same morals and outlook on life makes a relationship a lot easier.
“And we never tire of each other’s company. We just like being together.”
“When you are together emotionally and in spirit you bring out the best in each other,” adds Martin. “I know Lorraine brings out the best in me.”
One subject they are on the same page about is raising children, and that has helped with their blended family. Lorraine is mum to Hilton (21) and Jasmine (16) while Martin has a daughter Emma (10).
“We have very similar ideas on bringing up children, which comes back to compatibility,” says Lorraine. “It would be hard if there were lots of things we disagreed on.”
So do they ever argue? “I don’t use the word argument, I prefer to say discussion,” says Lorraine with a smile. “Yes, of course we have our differences but now we deal with them a lot better than we did when we were first together. We listen to what each other has to say and we don’t take it personally.”
Martin, who says he was once “world class” at holding grudges, no longer stews over things. “I used to spend three days stressing about something, but what I’ve learned is to man up to my responsibilities and just deal with it. We discuss whatever the problem is and it’s over in five minutes. And that makes a huge difference.”
“We have a saying in our house if we think someone is a bit off about something,” says Lorraine. “We ask, ‘Have you got something in your sack?’, meaning are they carrying around something that they are not happy about. That gives the other person the chance to open up about what is bothering them and that way things get discussed, instead of being bottled up. It’s a really healthy way of dealing with issues.”
Martin’s cancer diagnosis has also changed the way they view the things that annoy them.
“It makes you realise what is important in life,” says Lorraine.
“Little things that were issues before Marty got sick just aren’t issues any more. You think, ‘Really? Is that important?’ People are what matters and you realise how valuable time with them is.”
The couple say they’ve become very good at dealing with life one day at a time.
“I have always believed in fate,” says Lorraine. “I believe people come into your life for a reason, and there was a reason our paths crossed. We all have lessons to learn about ourselves and I think what has happened to Marty has been a part of his journey. And I think I was meant to be with him for that.”
“And I am very happy that she is,” says Martin.