Editors note: This article was one of a select few chosen for the inaugural print edition of Unconditionally Her which debuted at SURVIVORville 2017. We are inspired by this husband and wife who dealt with her breast cancer as a “team” and not just any team, but one that became educated, informed, and empowered – and that trusted instinct. Thank you, H.D. Timmons for sharing the perspective of a co-survivor, and to your wife Rose for allowing her personal journey to be shared so that women everywhere understand the importance of taking ownership of their health as well as listening and trusting what their bodies are saying. They truly can say “WE conquered cancer.”
One thing cancer has shown me is that no matter how much you prepare and educate yourself, you can never fully understand the enormity of what it means to have cancer. Oh, I wasn’t diagnosed with cancer. My wife was.
When one person is diagnosed with cancer, the ones closest to them are afflicted too. There’s no way around it. You can’t complain. You have no choice but to roll up your sleeves and deal with it. Each person plays a part in the treatment, comfort, and emotional support. Much like in football, the rest of the team must support the one carrying the ball.
My wife’s breast cancer took us by surprise. Of course, it did. That’s how cancer says hello, with a sucker-punch to the gut. We’d just spent the last few months of 2016 getting settled into a brand-new house, decked it out for the holidays to celebrate with family, and were looking forward to 2017 with a new outlook in new surroundings. However, into the new year only two weeks, my wife got her diagnosis. Ironically it was on Friday the 13th.
Several months earlier, my wife had felt something in her right breast that seemed to be getting larger. It’s no small statement to say that she saved her own life. She didn’t accept the results of a 3D mammogram, two diagnostic mammograms, and two diagnostic sonograms. The doctors who performed these tests each said that my wife simply had a fibrocystic breast and to come back in six months. Six months! My wife knew something didn’t feel right and listened to her body, opting to visit a recommended oncologist who ordered an MRI, revealing a 9cm mass—nearly half her breast. The resulting biopsy found that she was HER2 positive with stage one breast cancer.
Where cancer is concerned, it behooves everyone involved to be well-informed. My wife and I were a team, diligently learning everything we could about the type of cancer she had, the procedure that was to be done, the recovery process, and straight on through post-op treatment options. Added to that team were women who had survived breast cancer that shared their journeys. Whether through personal conversations or blogs, these women provided real-world scenarios of what to expect that helped my wife better cope with what was she was in for. She understood that she was part of a sisterhood, which bolstered her inner-strength.
After opting to have a bilateral mastectomy, the real work began. Let me tell all of you husbands and significant others out there that if you think you know what’s coming…if you think you’ve “got this”.… guess again. It’s not a part-time job. From the moment they brought my wife from the recovery room, my whole world became about making her comfortable, being her advocate, and truly earning once and for all the coveted distinction of being her partner.
At home, there were post-surgery drain tubes that needed to be routinely emptied and output logged for several weeks. If not tended to properly, it could result in an infection and another trip to the hospital. Also logged in a notebook were doses of Diazepam, Oxycodone, antibiotics, and nausea medicine to be dispensed with clockwork regularity. And, while she could now get around and do some normal activities while awaiting the many next phases of breast reconstruction, there were limits to her arm mobility, so things like reaching and getting dressed required my help.
Sure, as a guy giving up a large portion of my “me time” took some getting used to (just ask my wife), but within the scope of what we’re dealing with you quickly understand the adage: There is no “I” in “TEAM.”
Even though surgery removed all the cancerous mass—final pathology revealed the that my wife had actually reached stage 2A cancer—and pathology on nearby lymph nodes came back clear, the oncologist still recommended Chemo therapy to boost life expectancy from 40% in the next five years to 90%. Sobering percentages, but a positive outlook, and even a sense of humor, makes a world of difference to help get through the recovery process and next steps. For my part, all I can do is be the best partner I can be by reassuring my wife, through words and actions, that we are in this together. Always together.
During her impending three-month chemo regimen of Taxol, her hair will fall out, but will soon grow back. After that, the nine-month Herceptin treatment will seem never-ending, but it will end. In the grand scheme of things, we look at this ordeal simply as an inconvenience. We have no choice. We understand and appreciate the fact that we are among the lucky ones, where cancer isn’t a death sentence. That, because of my wife’s persistence, her cancer was caught early, we are blessed to be able to look past this bump in the road to our life beyond cancer, and the new outlook we will have on that life for the plans we will make together. Always together.