So your wife was just diagnosed with cancer? If you’re reading this I’ll assume you’ve done the important stuff - poured yourself a stiff drink, Googled the type of cancer that your wife has (I didn’t even know there were different types of breast cancer), and cleared your social calendar for the next 10 months. You are embarking on a challenging voyage and the waters will be choppy. Here are some tips, words of advice, warnings, and general observations on what you can expect on this journey. As with all things in life, your experience may differ, but...it probably won’t.
- Recognize what type of cancer husband you will be - and dial it back a bit. There are really only two types of cancer husbands. The emotional one in touch with his feelings who collapses into a pool of grief and anxiety. And the stoic we’re-going-to-get-through-this-by-putting-one-foot-in-front of-the-other-and-no-that’s-not-a-tear-I-just-have-something-in-my-eye type. Both of these people are really annoying to your wife. Don’t annoy your wife right now. Pull it together and strike a balance of compassion and strength. Or at least fake it.
- You’ve got mail! Get ready to receive more mail than that heartthrob who played the middle son on Home Improvement. Medical bills, insurance notices, and letters from your flexible spending account administrator are going to flock through your mail slot like the salmon of Capistrano. Sign up for electronic notices from your insurance carrier, buy a shredder, and get really good at identifying what can be tossed out with the other junk mail.
- Have kids? Start lining up the babysitters. You’re going to need help with the kids. Up until now you’ve probably had a high bar for who can watch your little ones. 5+ years of babysitting experience, CPR-certified, shares your parenting style, etc. You’re going to want to lower the bar real quick. Just find people that are agile enough to keep up with your fastest kid. Convicted felon? Make sure you understand what type of felony before ruling them out.
- Doctors don’t have all the answers...but they’re modern day miracle workers: You’re going to meet a lot of doctors. You’re going to want certainty. Certainty that the treatments they have your wife on are going to work. Certainty that everything will be ok. They can’t give you that certainty - they live in a world of probabilities. You may even find that they disagree with one another. But the majority of the Doctors you meet will be smart, competent, and completely devoted to healing your wife. The knowledge and tools they have will leave you in awe of human progress and fill you with gratitude for being alive in today’s world.
- Be on the lookout for strange new things in your pantry. Many women react to their cancer diagnosis by carefully considering what they put into their body. You’re going to see organic oils, keto-friendly cereal, and sugar-free chocolates. Look twice before pouring that sugar into your coffee - it may be monk fruit sweetener.
- Your needs matter too...just not as much. We husbands can be a selfish bunch. Now is the time to finally put yourself 2nd. Or 3rd if you have a dog. Or 5th if you have a dog and two kids. Cancer takes center stage and your wife is going to expend all of her energy getting through her treatments and dealing with her own fears. Suck it up and be the husband you always wanted to be. However, you will have your own demons. Recognize that and find someone to vent to - ideally a former cancer husband who knows what you’re going through and has come out the other side.
- Your wife may discover a spiritual side you didn’t know existed: You may have married a card-carrying atheist who quotes Richard Dawkins and thinks Sundays are only for watching football. It’s possible her cancer diagnosis will give her a new perspective on life and she’ll embrace a new spirituality. Keep an open mind, love this new side of her, and be careful you don’t step on her crystals when walking out the door the morning after a full moon.
- Ever wanted to live like a monk?: If you missed your calling as a member of the clergy, this is your opportunity to see firsthand how they live. Poverty? All those babysitters and essential oils aren’t cheap. Obedience? When your wife says jump the only response is “how high”? And chastity. Well, let’s just say no one on chemotherapy is feeling frisky. Hopefully you’ll be the kind of monk that finds beauty and meaning in all of this and not the kind that starts banging his head against the wall.
- Nurses are saints. What kind of person wants to change bloody tubes, deal with unsavory fluids, and field complaints all day? Nurses are cut from a different cloth. They are the backbone of modern day medicine. Their work is dirty, unglamorous, and often thankless. There is a special place in heaven for nurses.
- This journey does not end, but It will get better: There are tough days in store for you. There will be setbacks and scary test results. I hope you are one of the lucky ones and your wife gets a clean bill of health one day. But even then, she’ll live with the fear that it may come back. However, you will also be amazed at the strength your wife has. Her bravery and perseverance will humble you. Ultimately, if you choose to, this journey is an opportunity to evolve as a human being and as a couple. Whether it’s the next six months or the next 60 years, this is a chance to deepen your love for each other and strengthen the bond you share. Even if it means you end up with monk fruit in your coffee.
Good luck on your journey.