What did I do when we got news about my loved one getting cancer?
We had planned everything. My wife liked planning. We had seen people around us die from cancer and illnesses. We had already talked about what we would do if anything horrible happened to either one of us... in theory.
No-one can explain to you how your hopes and dreams fade when you immediately get the news. We had plans. Big plans. We had big plans and now we had to change direction really quickly. It felt like my emotions and feelings were daily on a 'cancer roller coaster ride. This is a ride that we did not want to get on, a ride that we were hoping to avoid by living a healthy and generous life. No. Life had different plans for us.
I instantly started to grieve: Grieving for my three year old potentially not having a mother to grow up with. Then grieving for my wife whom I adored and admired as a strong and determined woman who smiled and laughed with me constantly. We had just travelled to twenty four countries together before our child was born. She was my confidant and some-one who never tried to change me. We were in love. I felt fortunate that my wife was going to fight the cancer.
One of our closest friends had been diagnosed with breast cancer a couple of years previously. We had worked together as teachers. We supported her as best as possible following her wishes and her family wishes on their horrid cancer roller coaster ride. I had watched her in pain. Now I was flooded and overloaded with emotions on this new horrible roller coaster of our own.
When this friend was diagnosed with breast cancer we decided to enjoy a meal at an expensive restaurant in Melbourne. It was very expensive for our budget. It was a treat and a night off from worrying about my friend's cancer. We were spoilt by waiters who served us with white gloves and the Italian food was beautifully presented. We drank too much. We laughed about the stupidest things and it was one of the best memories we had together.
We could not afford to do this every time. We decided to celebrate any Good News and Bad News with food or small holidays. I had quickly learnt that instead of planning ahead we needed small goals to look forward to and get excited about. We started to take each day, at a time.
I actively sought out trusted people who had been through similar journeys for guidance and advice as a carer. I needed my friends to help me. I needed a different support network from my wife's network. I wanted to only listen to people whose loved ones had had cancer or palliative care: Not things people had read from nightmare cancer stories on 'Dr Google'.
On this site I am sharing the advice that I received and how I adapted it to my situation. I took their suggestions and shared them with my wife first. We came up with a plan which would work for our family.
The best thing that helped us decide what to do was: What's the right thing to do for us, our child and our sanity? We never did the easiest thing that would please others. We decided not to avoid any difficult discussion topics.
Immediately, I found the courage to say Good-bye to my wife. It hurt. It really hurt. She said Good-bye to me. We knew that there might not be any time to say it with the whirlwind of emotions and treatment. Painful treatment. We told each other how much we loved each there. Right there. We took the time. On the spot. Not waiting for a special time (like they do in all of the Cancer movies!). We wanted no regrets.
Although there were many upsetting discussions: There were tears and tissues trying to work out what we would tell our young son. Our son was the priority according to Mum's wishes (See the Telling Children section)
Ultimately we decided, we would create an emotionally protective shield around our family. We knew our plan would contradict traditional ideas about how we should do it.
In some cases, our plan was unfairly criticised and was not popular. I knew that we would lose a small group of people around us.
My friend who had cancer already, warned me that this would happen. She was right. People whom you thought would be able to support you, could not. That's all right. They're not ready for their own mortality yet.
We were brave and tried to reduce the amount of contact with people who were not supportive:
We let them go.
For all of the Supportive Friends, I communicated via text messages and emailed them about how we are dealing with it and how they can help us. We kept the messages brief. I found it too emotionally draining to explain in detail why we had chosen to follow a certain medical regime. Short, sharp and sweet messages.
We chose to make light of 'cancer' and 'dying' all of the time, even in all the messages to adults. Our closest friends joined in with us. They never made any humourous references in front of any children, including our child.
Over the next couple of months we started to discuss the difficult topics and action them:
My wife told me she hoped I would re-marry, if I wanted. Once again, I make these discussions sound easy. They made us both uncomfortable and emotionally fraught. I did not want to think about life without her.
There many discussions at 2 am in the morning because neither of us could sleep, starting with, "Paul, Are you awake?" (I was trying to sleep!) 😂 We would wake up and just talk about these things. We did a lot of laughing too.
Part of the 'letting go' process, now that my wife has died, is that we both had the courage to discuss these topics. I am so grateful to her too because I have no regrets now. My wife told me what she wanted.
Most importantly I knew that I would be resilient through this process but I needed help. I could not do this on my own. For most men, it is difficult to ask for help. Don't be afraid to ask for help and accept help.
I asked my friends to help me as a carer. I feel much more relieved now that my wife has died, that I asked for help right through the events.