Posted by Maggie on September 21, 2010 at 12:29 PM
At twenty-eight years young, I never thought I’d say my wife has cancer. Twenty-eight. Twenty-eight years old and Jen has cancer. This is our reality. Until now, we have had a smooth journey, like a relaxing freeway ride. But the shocking news came like a sudden turn onto a dangerously winding road. And unfortunately our car has no reverse.
The first turn came with a screeching feeling of despair. I still don’t believe it. Jen had just given birth to our first child, a beautifully chunky blond-haired blue-eyed baby boy. Surely her nausea was just from her body re-adjusting to an empty belly. Even the doctors told her it was “just a bug.” But the colonoscopy proved otherwise. The picture of the tumor blocking Jen’s colon still rips through my brain. I always had this feeling our life was too perfect. Perfect wife. Healthy child. Great family. Secure job. Nice house. Surely we would hit a speed bump sooner or later. Well, this was more like getting blind-sided by a drunk driver, and the horrific crash made time stand still.
As the disbelief began to dissipate, anger began to press on the gas pedal uncontrollably. Colon cancer is for old people, not a young, vibrant, healthy young woman. She doesn’t deserve this. The anger kept picking up speed until it could not be contained. The collision with my emotions came in front of my family in the hospital cafeteria. I found myself swearing, desperately searching for answers. Why her? Why not the lethargic calorie-hoarder over there ordering his favorite triple heart attack on a bun? She eats healthy. She works out. Why did this happen to her? Why did this happen to us?
I am still searching for the answer. But through prayer, family support, and the smile of our unsuspecting son, the anger slowly gave way to acceptance. I just wish acceptance did not come with so many tears. As the tears began to dissipate, anxiety led to sleepless nights. But as we began to slow down for the next turn in the road, confidence slowly crept into the backseat. We will be okay. We will get through this. We have no other choice but to move forward.
The headlights illuminated a fork in the road. The doctors told us chemotherapy would decrease the chance of a reoccurrence, but it may come with consequences. Rationality took a seat. I am a scientist by training so I could not help but to use this to guide our decision. Throughout school and in my young career endeavors, I read scientific papers as if they were the daily newspaper. When recommending chemotherapy, the doctors spat out statistics, but my reason forced me to search for the foundation of these claims. I read several papers on colon cancer patients and the survival outcomes involved with chemotherapy. I have never thought much about case studies in the past, but when your wife represents one of those numbers, suddenly the papers appear in a different light. Suddenly only a 15% reoccurrence rate is not so great. Suddenly the “overall survival rate” of a group of patients takes on a new meaning. Suddenly I was praying that Jen falls on the successful side of the graphical black line of death.
Once I broke with my obsession of arming myself with all the facts, I found that the data reaffirmed my confidence in the doctors’ prognosis. We knew the right path, and we had no other choice but to move ahead. We knew the risks. There is a chance our son may never have a blood-related brother or sister, but the alternative is unthinkable. So the treatments began.
Jen is half way through the treatments now. I can tell in her eyes she wants to do the things she did before. She wants to cook for me. She wants to hold and kiss her son. She wants to take care of me. But some days the fatigue is too much. I never want to wish my life away, but during these six months of chemotherapy it is hard not to look forward to the day when we only have to look at this time as it fades in the rear-view mirror. When we can say: “Yes, my wife had cancer, but she is back and stronger than ever.”
It’s tough being the caregiver. I try to help Jen as much as I can but I feel utterly helpless all at the same time. Even so, I have learned to view this detour as a learning experience and as a chance for our family to grow closer. I have found that there is little joy in viewing this only as hardship. But for me, harder than accepting the fact of my wife’s diagnosis was accepting the help that was oozing from our family and friends. I have never been one to ask for help. In fact, I pride myself in doing things on my own. But as we are moving forward, I thank God every night for all those who have sacrificed their own normalcy to help us. Family and friends brought us food wrapped in prayers of hope. My mother dropped everything to be our live-in life support. Even perfect strangers who have heard our story have offered their help.
I have been told that everything happens for a reason, but I am not sure I believe this. I like to think we have control over our own fate. We chose to have chemo; we chose to do everything we can to ensure that the cancer doesn’t come back. Maybe the cancer was sent to prepare her body for something in the future. Maybe Jen had to suffer so that others in her family could be helped before it was too late. Or maybe this happened to bring our family closer together. Whatever the reason, we are moving forward. I am moving forward. Although anxiety is still locked in the trunk, we threw despair and anger out of the car. They only slowed our progress.
Moving ahead, I am able to reflect on how this experience is teaching me valuable life lessons. People truly want to help, but you have to let them. I am learning to accept the love-filled meals brought by family and friends. I am learning to allow people to help take care of our son. I am learning that prayers work if you let them. And if you let Him, I am learning that God will provide. The movie About a Boy comes to mind; you cannot live your life “on an island.” Acceptance of love is not a weakness; it is a necessity.
And what about the old cliché “what does not kill you makes you stronger”? Well that seems to ring more loudly at every turn. I have seen Jen become stronger even on the days where she can barely get out of bed. I know our marriage is strengthening. I know we are becoming closer as a family. And I know I am becoming stronger in my faith, and in my duties as a provider, a father, and a husband.
But perhaps the most valuable lesson I am learning is never to take anything for granted. Life can turn into a routine. You can begin to lose sight of the fact that you have a beautiful wife and a loving family. You forget to enjoy the days when you are just relaxing and experiencing the uneventful and ordinarily mundane events of life. But a staggering accident like this puts things into perspective. Life is fragile. Although you may sometimes loose control, learn to enjoy every moment of the ride.