10 Things I Learned From My Wife’s Cancer

Cancer 01In Oct of 2011 my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. With chemotherapy, 4 surgeries, countless trips to the hospital/doctor’s office, and a regimen of daily medication that leaves me speechless, the last year and a half has been very, very long for her to say the least. But the good news is that she is now cancer free. She is certainly the one who carried the real burden. No doubt about it.  I say that because this is not an effort to minimize or trivialize the struggles or fight of those who have faced or are currently facing cancer. But I have managed to learn a few things along the way. My hope is that maybe I can share some words of hope and encouragement with those who are impacted because of their relationship to the one who is so diagnosed. So, here they are in no particular order. Hope they are a blessing.

10. The initial shock was far worse than the actual reality. I remember feeling devastated. I remember having to excuse myself from the doctor’s office because I thought I would pass out. Seriously. I still remember all the tears as we shared the news with our children. It was the worst day of my life. But we all survived. And as that initial diagnosis gave way to months of treatments and surgeries we began to realize that what seemed hopeless was not truly so. Death had threatened us but in the end life proved victorious.

9. I learned that this new life would require a willingness to serve my wife selflessly. My needs and wants would now have to become truly secondary. It wasn’t that she needed me to be “strong.” But she did need me to be there, to be available, and to serve in a way that I had never really known. I would have to prepare dinner at times (cereal and frozen pizza for the most part). I would have to help with homework, bathe children, take kids to school, and do all the other countless things that my wife did on a daily basis.

8. I developed a new appreciation for all the things my wife did for our family so unselfishly over the years. Need an explanation? Look back at number 9. The truth is that even with the cancer she still continued to carry that torch, serving us as if nothing had ever happened. I learned that she has a strength and a compassion beyond anything I could ever imagine.

7. I was reminded that a healthy marriage is built on love not sex. That might embarrass some of you but it’s the truth. Too many people look for the nearest exit when there is any setback in the bedroom. Sad. Surrounded by a culture that celebrates sex as the pinnacle of human experience, I came to realize that I loved my wife more than I loved sex. Yes, she would lose her breasts. But the things that had drawn me to her in the first place would remain untouched.

6. I learned that I would need to seek and accept support. I was raised by the John Wayne generation. Real men don’t cry. They don’t “share” or reach out when they hurt. They suck it up and tough it out. Guess I’m weak. The only reason I made it through this season was because of the friends who listened when I poured out my heart and stood beside me every step of the way.

5. I did the next thing. Confused? It’s an old rehab thing. When life gets difficult and demanding, sometimes the best thing to do, sometimes the only thing you can do, is the next thing. I got up and went to work. I refused to drop out of school (I had returned to college at the age of 44 just prior to my wife’s diagnosis). I still followed college football, went to the occasional movie, and blogged. I determined that life had to continue even in the face of cancer.

4. Life goes on. This kinda ties into number 5 but it’s also just a little different. The world didn’t come to an end when the doctor gave us the bad news. We still had bills to pay. We still had financial responsibilities. We still had children who depended upon us to keep it together. There were a lot of days when I wanted to curl up into a fetal position. There were so many times I wanted to give up and quit. But I knew that too many people were looking to me to get back in the ring. My wife and kids needed me to stay in the fight. Cancer or no cancer, life would continue and we had to keep moving forward.

3. My priorities were greatly refined. For years I had lived a distracted life. I thought I was invincible and that I would never die. My wife’s cancer reminded me of the reality of human mortality. I have spent more time with my wife and 3 children during the past 18 months than the previous 22 years combined. (I know, sad. But better late than never, right?) I learned to treasure the time I have with others because you never know when it will be gone.

2. I tore down the statues that I had erected to a lot of false heroes. Sorry, I only have one hero now… my wife. Yes, there are people who inspire me and motivate me. But hero? I stopped throwing that word around so casually. Batman? Gone. Joan of Arc? Removed from the gallery. My wife demonstrated true heroism in a way that I had never seen. She refused to give up. She continued to love and serve. She gave us strength when she had her strength completely drained. I know it sounds cliché but it’s true. My wife is my hero.

1. I was reminded of the importance of faith. Notice what I said. I didn’t say “religion.” I didn’t even say “church.” I said faith. Going to church during the past year was hard. She was sick on so many days. My “new” schedule meant I had to work most Sundays. But even though our church attendance became sporadic (almost non-existence) our faith in God remained central to our lives. We still prayed. We still enjoyed fellowship with other believers. We still read our Bible, worshipped, etc. But what we realized was that God’s grace transcended all of our previous religious preconceptions. When life was at its worst, He was at His best.