No matter what age you are, no-one likes bad news and none of us are prepared for it.
I still vividly remember when my wife walked upstairs on a very ordinary day and said to me, "I feel this hard lump in my breast". I was waiting for that dramatic music you hear in any of the B Grade Cancer movies. Nothing. No warning. Silence.
We had a unique relationship fostered over 12 years of marriage, where we bluntly responded to each other with our feelings. I replied, "I have a really bad feeling, like there are dark clouds around you. It's probably breast cancer. We will work out what we need to do and we'll get through this together. "Fuck you, Cancer!"
We sat down and cried together for what seemed like an eternity. Then our three-year-old yelled from his bedroom that he was hungry. We scooped him up and took him out to get hot chips and a big caramel milkshake, and we found some comfort food for us.
From my personal experience volunteering with Canteen, I knew that life was too short. We needed to come up with a plan and quickly: My wife would manage her health decisions and I would look after everything else.
The irony was my wife was working for BreastScreen at the time. So we started laughing about the cancer: Even though nothing had been confirmed, she already knew more about breast cancer than the average person. Would she get promoted and be handed a trophy because she know more about breast cancer than her colleagues? 😲 This was the first of many hundreds of times that we decided to laugh at cancer and crack bad jokes about it.
We gave ourselves time to process what was happening before telling anyone, while my wife organised her choice of medical care. My wife had an appointment with a breast screening clinic and then an appointment with a breast surgeon who came highly recommended. Before we even sat down, the surgeon told us that the news is ‘not good’. It is breast cancer and it is advanced.
My wife said, “OK. So how soon can you operate? I asked, “What’s the best thing we can do? We need to hurry up, she’s going to die soon!” The surgeon was stunned by our direct responses. I explained, “We have a very dark sense of humour.”
At that stage, we decided that we were going to be very direct with everyone about the treatment and avoid euphemisms about cancer. Bad news should be laughed at and celebrated, so we went to a fine restaurant to cheer ourselves up.