It was two years ago that my wife decided before turning 50 that she would go and have a mammogram. A colleague from work had just been diagnosed with secondary breast cancer and, perhaps intuitively, my wife was prompted into action.
I remember when we sat in the surgeon’s office and a diagnosis of breast cancer was made I glanced across at my wife and saw that distinctive bottom lip of hers drop, just before she cries, a paradoxically beautiful look, before she quickly composed herself to embrace what was to come. I only saw ‘the dropping of the bottom lip’ on two other occasions after her diagnosis, for as is typical of my wife, she has a steely resolve and breast cancer was never going to unravel or define her.
Her surgeon explained that “breast cancer was a journey”, something I now understand, and that this diagnosis was serendipitous, that is, early, with an optimistic prognosis and outcome. Despite this, I was in shock, and unlike the courage my wife exemplified, I was in a tailspin for most of the first year grappling with real and imagined uncertainty. What would I do if she wasn’t in my life anymore? It was difficult to control this roller coaster of emotions and anxiety despite the robust encouragement of her surgeon’s advice, ‘The General’ as like to call her, a remarkable woman in the field of breast cancer whose commitment to her patients is profound and earnest.
I sought help from people, and drank one or two margaritas during the weeks, to find a way through what one breast cancer survivor told me was the feeling of a “loss of control” on the part of the man, and the anxiety that comes with this. As Khalil Gibran said, “Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it”. It is this “loss of control”, uncertainty, which is the essence of the journey for the partner, but also a vehicle to transform it into something invaluable, an awareness of the present and an opportunity to live life to the fullest. Most importantly it is a moment to love your wife, writ large.
The journey for the woman is a difficult one because sometimes you do need to use ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’: surgery, radiotherapy (and chemotherapy in other circumstances), and in the case of my wife, taking Tamoxifen for 5 years, the latter I affectionately refer to as ‘Tammy’. ‘Tammy’ can be difficult for women in terms of side effects, and catapults a woman into menopause and its accompanying tribulations. This is why it is important to remind her that you love her, buy her jewellery, take her on holidays, and let her eat as much seafood, like oysters, as she wants, and to light up her face with laughter and smiles. There are times I have looked at her and seen her like it’s the first time again, the light of her eyes simply sublime. The little things you may have missed before, you don’t anymore.
Herein is the power of uncertainty, it heightens your awareness if you can embrace it as an adventure, difficult as this is still for me. As we passed her second year scan recently without issue, the feeling of elation I felt was extraordinary as it’s like ‘starting again’ and a reminder to live gratefully. My wife in her inimitable way when I asked if she had been nervous about the scan replied, “Nup”. Her courage always leaves me in awe. As William Shakespeare said, “Who could refrain that had a heart to love and in that heart courage to make love known?”