Making Choices for my Wife’s Cancer Care
My wife is a cancer survivor. Often, she mentions how challenging it must have been for me to manage the situation as her husband and caregiver. Being a caregiver is a difficult task, and I hope that by sharing my story, I can help other people currently struggling through a similar, difficult journey through cancer.
Just a little over three months before my wife was diagnosed with cancer, we had our first baby, a beautiful little girl that we named Lily. We were thrilled and overjoyed to be new parents, but less than four months later the diagnosis was made and our world fell apart. My wife had mesothelioma. The joy, hope and dreams were ripped from us. But, seconds after the diagnosis, the physicians began discussing medical options and the reality was clear – I had to help my wife make difficult choices regarding her care from this point forward.
Anger and absolute fear raged in me for days. But, as time went by, I learned to accept the situation and find the strength needed to face these challenges successfully. This strength was driven from the love I have for my family. I managed to mask my fears and be the source of hope and positive energy that we needed during this time.
As the days went by, my list of tasks became overwhelming. I suddenly had so many new responsibilities, and I struggled to keep up with everything that I was expected to do. I had to continue to work my full time job, care for Lily and my wife, our pets, our home, arrange for medical care and doctors appointments, travel arrangements – the list went on and on. It was during those first days that I learned to manage priorities and take care of the important things first. Not only did I learn to prioritize, but I finally opened up to the assistance of family and friends; these special individuals made this time manageable. After I learned to accept their help, a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. I still felt overwhelmed on some days, but with the generous support of our family and friends we managed to make it through day by day.
There was one particular hardship that was especially difficult for me to endure. For two months, I was separated from my wife and daughter, and was able to see them only one time. My wife and I traveled to Boston for her extrapleural pneumonectomy surgery, and we left Lily in the care of Heather’s parents in South Dakota. After her surgery, Heather went to join Lily at her parents’ house to recover and prepare for further treatment, while I returned home to keep working. They would stay there for the next two months, and sadly I would be able to visit them only once. I traveled more than 10 hours through a snowstorm to see them one Friday night after work. I was only able to spend a day with them, before I had to get back on the road to be at work on Monday morning. It was a short visit, but I cherished every moment of it.
My wife’s struggle with cancer was the most difficult time of my life, but it taught me so much. I learned the importance of accepting help. At first I tried to do everything myself, but if I hadn’t learned to accept the offers of assistance from our family and friends I never would have made it through. I also learned to never regret or second guess the difficult decisions that we were forced to make during this time. Rather, I learned to be grateful for the ability to make decisions at all. They gave us some small amount of control over a situation that often seemed completely out of our hands. In the end, Heather defied the odds that come with a mesothelioma diagnosis, and is cancer-free today, over seven years later. I hope that these lessons that we learned can help those currently struggling through a difficult battle with cancer.