by Martin Lannon
Over the years I had seen television shows or read stories about pivotal moments in other people’s lives. These moments changed them, or caused them to realize they were more than just the routine they had fallen into.
My moment came in 2007. Colon cancer is what changed my life.
My wife, partner, best friend and the love of my life was given a stage III colon cancer diagnosis. Instantly our lives were turned upside down.
From the moment I heard the words “cancer,” I went numb. The world around me began to move in slow motion. As the doctor tried to explain to me what happened, all sound disappeared. I remember seeing his lips moving, but I couldn’t hear anything after he uttered that dreaded word.
I was in shock. One minute we were enjoying a movie night with the kids and the next minute, my wife was in surgery fighting for her life.
Cancer woke me up and truly brought home the inescapable fact that nothing in this life is forever.
Opening up as a caregiver
After getting my wife through the first week of her diagnosis, I was encouraged by the doctor and my in-laws to get some rest. Rest I desperately needed, yet as I sat alone in our room, I couldn’t turn my brain off. The anxiety, fear and emotions overwhelmed me, as if a wave came crashing down, pinning me while I struggled to get air.
Many questions ran through my mind: What’s going to happen? How do I fix this? Will she be okay? How will this affect my children? Will I be a single dad? How will I manage?
Like any husband would, I kept my focus on her – making sure she had what she needed and was comfortable. I sat with her, listening to her concerns and trying to provide reassurance. Then one day after scheduling her first round of chemo, she sat me down and asked me a very simple question: “How are you doing?”
I tried to play up the macho “don’t worry about me” routine but she looked me in the eyes and asked again. At that moment she gave me the permission I desperately needed to share my thoughts and worries. It was okay to share, and she wanted to be there for me as well.
As a caregiver, I felt selfish for how I was feeling. I felt as if I let my wife down because I couldn’t do anything. Her comforting me and telling me it’s okay to share was a gift that cost nothing, but meant everything.
Now almost 10 years after her diagnosis, she is still here, still with me, and still my inspiration. I still worry about cancer and, from time to time, find myself asking if it will come back unexpectedly, if it will catch up to me, or if it will affect my children someday.
The truth of it is, I don’t know. But what I discovered through this journey with my wife is that it’s okay to not know, and it’s important to talk about these thoughts and feelings with others.
Advice for other caregivers
From one caregiver to another, especially someone who may just now be going through what I experienced, there are three things that have stayed with me over the years.
- The first is a lyric from a John Lennon song where he says, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” These words are so true and remind me to appreciate every moment and take things as they come.
- The second is something a family friend told me after my wife’s diagnosis. She said, “Marriage isn’t really the wedding day, the white picket fence or the romantic moments you share. Although these are all wonderful gifts and benefits in themselves, a strong marriage is built when things happen and you know your spouse is in it with you.” I’ve never forgotten that.
- And lastly, that this negative situation brought upon us gave me a “secret weapon” that a lot of people don’t have: No matter how bad any day may be, when I come home to see my wife’s beautiful face, I’m reminded how lucky we truly are.
What could be better than that?
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