When Samantha was first diagnosed with cancer I remember feeling a lot lost. I wanted to make sure I did everything right, but there was no place to go as a man to get information. I did learn a lot of what not to do from some of the website groups Samantha was on – stories of obtuse husbands abound. So I talked with a lot of other women and asked questions about what to expect and how I could be better prepared to make the coming battle easier on my wife. I learned a lot and I am so very grateful to so many women for their encouragement and insight.
This is just some of the lessons I learned and hope will help any man taking care of a woman battling cervical cancer.
That doesn’t just apply to your wife. Be patient with yourself, too. You aren’t going to have it all figured out and your wife isn’t going to expect you to.
This is going to be a long, hard fight for both of you. She needs you in ways you probably haven’t been needed before. When you don’t get it right, do not beat yourself. The energy you waste beating yourself up is energy better used concentrating on the next obstacle.
If she is cranky, or distant it has nothing to do with you. Allow her the room to feel whatever it is she is going to feel. But be there.
Shut up and listen
Be a man and turn off the game when she comes to you. Don’t try to fix it, just listen and be compassionate. You can’t empathize. You don’t know how she feels. She doesn’t need you to. She needs you to shut your piehole, listen, put your arms around her. If she needs to cry, it doesn’t mean she’s broken. If she needs to yell or vent, it probably has a lot less to do with you than you realize. You might wake up in the middle of the night before a biopsy/surgery/appointment and find her wide awake in her own head. Don’t push her to talk to you. Let her lead. And if she doesn’t want to talk, kiss her, tell you love her, mean it.
Laughter is the best medicine
If your wife has a twisted sense of humor like mine does, don’t ignore it. Just wait until the stiches have had time to heal before you make her laugh too hard. But whatever her sensibilities, laughter really does help. I call it finding the funny in the dark place and I really do believe laughter is a powerful tool in the battle against cancer.
Take time for you
That may seem counterintuitive, but you need to keep yourself sane as much for her sake as your own. You’re not a jerk if you kick on the PS3 and have a beer while she’s doped up and asleep. She needs you as whole and sane as you can possibly be. If a Star Wars festivus does that, do it. If reading a book in the quiet hours of the night does it, do it. Whatever your thing is that keeps you grounded, find time to do that.
She is always a woman
I cannot stress this enough. There will be times when she will doubt her own womanhood. You better never doubt it. Never let her think you doubt it. Never let her forget that she is every bit the woman you fell in love with. If you’re a man at all you will end up knowing that she is so much more than the woman you fell in love with. Remind her of that. With words, with deeds, with touch.
This whole experience has been life changing for me. I always knew my wife was hot, sexy, gorgeous. But I never realized the depth of her strength and how that changes her beauty. She thinks she lost some of that thing that makes her a woman. I can honestly say I have never known anyone who is more woman than my wife. I am in awe of the woman I love. I suspect a lot of men are who go through this.
Don’t be a dick. When she is ready, and only when she is ready. Don’t guilt her into it, don’t make her feel bad for it, don’t be a dick.
Look, I love sex. So does Samantha. But there needs to be time to heal. My wife had a lot of her cut out and what wasn’t cut out was rearranged and put back together. That takes time to heal. Not just physically. I could have combined this with She is always a woman because how you handle sex goes a long way towards never letting her forget she’s a woman.
Touch your wife without expecting anything. I make out with mine (though, I suspect not as much as she’d like). Be affectionate. Talk openly about sex. But do not make her feel like shit because she isn’t ready.
Do not. Be. A. Dick.
Learn as much as you can
About her cancer. I was never going to learn as much about Samantha’s cancer as she would. She devoured every bit of information she could and was not shy about questioning her doctors every step of the way. I learned what her cancer was doing to her body, what things like “stage” “in-situ” “HPV” and “metastasize” meant. I learned which cancers were more aggressive and which were slower to grow. I didn’t want to feel like a moron in the doc’s office, but more than that I could not let her feel like she was going through this alone.
About her treatment. There will be lots of doctors appointments. There will be lots of opportunity to miss things. Don’t leave it to her to catch all the information that will be thrown at her. She will want to ask questions and she may forget. You will be her back up. And once the biopsies and whatnot are all done and the actual treatment begins, whether it is surgery or chemo/radiation, YOU will need to be the point man. When Samantha went in for her surgery, her doctor came to me during and after the surgery with updates, questions and legal crap. I needed to know what the hell was going on and so will you.
About her aftercare. My wife had surgery. Yours may have chemo or radiation. Or even all of the above. I asked a lot of women on support group pages what they wish they knew they should have at home post surgery. Pillows. Lots and big pillows. She will not be able to sleep in a normal position for awhile. Pillows can be positioned in any number of ways to make her comfortable. Panty liners or pads. Get a thirty pack at least. Better to have too many than not enough. Ask her what type she prefers before hand so you can have them waiting when you bring her home. A waste basket close to her bed. She will likely come home with a catheter so whatever hang ups you have about body fluids – get over it. Get yourself some rubber gloves if it makes you feel better about it, but you are going to have to clean up after your wife. A water pitcher. A pill box. Alcohol wipes (you might be able to get them from your doctor).
I don’t have all the answers, and every journey is going to be different. So think of this as a starting point rather than an all inclusive reference guide.
Share your insight; it can only help. Email me or comment and I’ll be sure to update/revise this. And please, share it with anyone yout think could use it.
Amazing post, Rudy.