At 30 years of age I had it all and felt I’d done it all. Three kids, beautiful wife, strong faith in God, good health, great parents and brothers, and a small business that was taking off. Being self-employed I had a lot of time with my children and wife. I was doing everything I wanted to do. I could solve any problem that came my way. My life was going to be great.
Then in November, 1999 my wife had a painful lump in her breast very close to her sternum. I told her, “don’t worry about it.” Our third child was only 5 months old, she had just stopped breast feeding, it must just be an infection. Besides breast cancer doesn’t hurt. We are young and healthy. Cancer is for older people that don’t take care of themselves.
But the lump persisted. Finally, my wife went to her gynecologist. He was not happy with what he felt and suggested she have a mammogram. The mammogram was negative. I told her, “see you worry to much.” Her doctor, still not being satisfied, ordered an ultrasound. The ultrasound didn’t look good at all.
I don’t know the day, month or for that matter I can’t always remember the year, but I will never forget the day of the biopsy. I can hardly write about it now without crying. Something I rarely if ever did before that day. What started as a nice beautiful day, turned dark and terrible with two words from the surgeon, “it’s malignant.” My heart sunk like it never did before.
Suddenly all at once I wanted to hold my wife, I wanted to see my children, I wanted to cry, but there were too many people in the room. We all just looked at each other in disbelief for what seemed like 20 minutes but couldn’t have been more the 30 seconds. The next feeling for me was one of action. What do we do now? Where do we go from here? We can’t just go home. Can I break something? What can I do to take care of this?
Slowly the answers came to me. I couldn’t fix it. I couldn’t make it go away. What am I supposed to do? I have little kids who need and love their mother. I loved and wanted my wife. She was supposed to live longer than me. I always thought I would be the one to die young, not her, she’s young, vibrant and beautiful.
The biopsy had no margins. There was cancer cells from end to end. As far as treatment, there was no question for each of us. She was going to do it all. Having recently questioned my dad’s decision to have his prostate removed after finding he had very contained and minimal prostate cancer, I now understood his decision. When it’s your own body or your spouse’s, you just want it out. Who cares about side effects of surgery when the main side effect of cancer is death.
My wife is a nurse and works the night shift. The first night she went back to work after her biopsy seemed just another night until I put the kids to bed. There I was, all alone, a time I once greatly enjoyed. Now, everywhere I looked, there was a reminder of her, but she wasn’t here and she may go away forever. There alone in the dark, the thought of my wife dying became excruciating. I cried and prayed until 2 or 3am asking God, “why her and not me?” I promised God that I would love her forever if he would just let her live. When my wife finally got home in the morning I begged her not to go to work again. She called her boss and was put on leave until her surgery was done and she had recovered.
The time from diagnosis to treatment seemed to take forever. We were shocked when lab work, appointments and surgery were not days, or weeks away, but months. When making appointments my wife felt like yelling, “what do you mean you can’t see me this week, I have cancer? What part of cancer do you not understand?”
Luckily my wife was a nurse, we don’t like to pull strings and ask for favors, but for this we would do it. My wife got busy making phone calls to friends and friends of friends and got her appointments moved up in almost all cases. We can’t imagine how others feel not being able to do this.
The outpouring of offers to help with our children, finances, cooking, etc. was just phenomenal. Before this we hadn’t a clue of how to deal with or help someone with an illness. Now we know. Every little act of generosity is amazingly helpful. We received gift baskets loaded with great stuff, like books, food, gift certificates to grocery stores, video rentals, movie passes, etc. My problem was that I felt we were not thanking everybody as well as we should. I felt we should somehow reciprocate the gifts. It was very hard to accept all this help with a simple thank you, knowing that at the moment I simply couldn’t return the favor. I could only promise myself that, in the future, I will have more compassion and offer to help others in need.
Chemotherapy was not as bad as we thought. Having a bald wife was also not a problem. I told her that if I was bald I would want to look like her. I wanted her to get a tattoo on her head that said, “What are you looking at?” and the best part, no one would even know it was there when her hair grew back. (This, we learned, would have been a very bad idea, due to risk of infection during chemo.) She bought a wig but hardly wore it. She chose caps instead. She even had one that said, “Cancer Sucks!” She knew the stares and looks were only because people were concerned and, “Cancer Sucks!” answered their questions. It’s amazing what being bald can do. The best part was we were now finally recognized at our favorite restaurant where we had went for years unnoticed.
My wife has now gone through a biopsy, mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation treatment and is in the process of breast reconstruction. She has not cried and has rarely complained. I never knew how strong and resilient she is. Her body has been cut, sewn, chemically assaulted, radiated and left bruised and draining, but she is just as beautiful and positive as ever. I see now why God chose her instead of me.
Added Note: We now have a fourth child. My son! We thought my wife could no longer get pregnant after all her treatments. My boy decided he was coming anyway. He is now a healthy, vibrant three year old and the love of our family’s life. There were no problems with my wife’s pregnancy or our son. God has blessed us once again!