Watching your wife hang up the phone and turn to you saying “I have breast cancer” is one of the most devastating things you’ll ever hear in your lifetime. You may not realize it at that moment, but your life is about to unravel in ways you’d never imagine! In a matter of moments you’ll need to decipher the words you just heard then digest it in a manner that will make sense to you!
If you’re like me, you’ve never been exposed to cancer in your life… never! You have no idea what to expect and for once in your life you may feel helpless. Feeling helpless is alright. It’s normal, but from my experience, helpless is not what she wants to see from you at that moment. You need to realize whatever you’re feeling… she’s feeling 100 times over! She needs you. I don’t care how independent a woman she is, that changes immediately. She needs you. It’s your role to step up to the plate and take charge in whatever way you can.
Remember when you married? You took a vow to “Love, Honor and Cherish through sickness and in health.” “Health” is the easy part. The “Sickness” part is much more difficult. There will be times when you’ll be faced with challenges that the only thing you can do is fly by the seat of your pants and pray that what you’re doing is right.
The best advice I can offer are the things I’ve learned going through this journey with my wife… I call them “Ed’s rules to helping your wife through breast cancer.”
1) Be as strong as you can in front of her. My wife told me the last thing she wanted to witness was me breaking down. To see me break down would be interpreted as I’m throwing in the towel. Sure I broke down, but I generally saved that for my drive to work! (By the way, that’s not recommended when on the highway!) She needs to see you strong for her.
2) Tell her you love her! Tell her you love her whenever you have that sincere feeling in your heart. Don’t just say the words to say them. If you look at her and she’s tired from treatments, has no hair or eyelashes and you still believe she’s the most beautiful woman in the world… tell her! Remember, only when you genuinely feel those feelings… make sure you tell her! She needs to hear it. She needs to know that you still love her to death and you’ll be with her, by her side, throughout this journey.
3) Keep her away from the internet! Self diagnosis via the internet is the worst thing she can do… and she will do it. The only thing she’ll get out of it is scared to death! There was a time where I actually threatened to activate “parental controls” on the computer to keep her from searching. You can search, but filter the information to her. Bottom line, neither of you have medical training to make an accurate diagnosis. Leave that to the ones who are properly trained.
4) Go to every appointment with her! This is so important for several reasons. First and foremost, it’s important to support her. As I said before, she may have been the most independent woman in the world, but when breast cancer comes in the picture, she loses her independence, not by choice, but by necessity. She needs to know that you’re by her side throughout this entire ride. It may not be convenient for you because you have a meeting or something else you need to do. That’s too bad! Put things into perspective… this is your wife we’re talking about! Second, it’s important to have a second set of ears during the appointment. Your wife is dealing with so many emotions and there are so many things and procedures that are being thrown at her, I guarantee she’ll miss something. It’s also human nature for her to grasp onto bad news or a concern the doctor may have discussed that she’ll be preoccupied and miss other parts of the discussion. Being at every appointment also gives you the opportunity to ask questions you may have.
5) Be prepared for anything! You probably have no medical training yet there will come times when you’ll need to be a quasi doctor or nurse. You’ve probably never been trained as a counselor, psychiatrist or psychologist, yet you will be put in situations where you will wish you had some training. You’ve probably never had any theology training but will wish you had. The point I’m trying to make, like I said earlier, is that there will be times when you’re just going to have to fly by the seat of your pants. You love her… you can do it.
6) Listen to her. As tempted as you may be, do not offer advice… just listen! When she needs to vent… listen! We men are “fixers”. Generally, whatever the problem is, we fix it. We can’t fix breast cancer. She’s going through a battle of the emotional vs. intellectual. The emotional will win 100% of the time. Remember… keep your mouth shut… just listen!
7) Take care of yourself to be able to take care of her! Men don’t generally ask for help. It’s just the way we’re built. We look at asking for help as a weakness. I learned that it’s not. If you don’t reach out, you’ll burn yourself out quickly. When someone calls and asks if they can bring dinner over… as hard as it may be, tell them “yes!” Just remember, people won’t offer to help unless they genuinely want to help.
8) Get ready for tears. Hugs are about all you have to help with tears. Remember, she is frightened like she’s never been frightened before. There are no boundaries throughout a 24 hour period when it’s time for a good cry. Refer to rule number 5… turn into a good listener!
9) Last but definitely not least, turn to God. God is good all the time. If you don’t believe, then it’s time to open your heart to God. God answered so many prayers for me and my wife throughout our journey. Prayers I never thought could be answered. He was my co-pilot throughout our journey. He kept me sane! You can always vent to him, talk to him or ask for help. He answers my prayers even to this very day. He listens.
Hopefully these “rules” make sense to you. You do need to understand that these “rules” won’t work unless you are sincere. Sincerity, love and hope make it happen.
I blogged throughout our journey. It’s a daily/weekly journal about our love for each other, fear and hope and how we dealt with the challenges and trials we faced such as the mastectomy, hair loss, nausea, losing her taste, etc … Everyone’s journey is going to be different just like every cancer is different, but this blog has helped so many people understand things that may come up. If you have an opportunity, I encourage you and her to read through it.