This article was originally published in 2018 in Wildfire Magazine. You should do yourself a favor and get a subscription immediately!! I’m reproducing my article today, on the anniversary of my beloved husband’s birth.
At the time of my de novo metastatic diagnosis, my husband and I had been together for nearly 12 years and had been married for nearly 10. We have two boys, who were then nearly 2 and nearly 4 (they are now 6 and 4). We were thinking about a third child and I was still tandem breastfeeding (meaning breastfeeding both boys at the same time). In short, we were focused on our children, running our business and traveling.
Then the bomb dropped.
Overnight, my husband was married to a very sick wife who was told not to walk until surgery (during chemo) and he then became the only employed person in our family, carrying the health insurance that would help keep me alive. My family helped a lot initially and my mom basically spent the whole summer of 2017 in either the hospital or the special room we set up on the first floor since I couldn’t climb stairs. My husband missed a lot of work due to surgeries and chemo.
It is hard to find the words to explain how drastically our relationship changed. We have always been full partners, weathering the changes in life and our jobs together. When I decided that I wanted to leave the law firm I was at when I met my husband, he was 100% on board to support me starting my own firm. We didn’t always agree on all the specifics, but his business, banking and financial acumen came in super handy as he monitored everything money-wise, both personal and professional, which has kept me out of trouble in so many ways.
My law practice was focused on divorce and all the things that come in a divorce, so I suppose I should have been nervous that my diagnosis would change the way my husband sees me. I wasn’t worried that he would no longer want to be married to me, that he would be focused on superficial changes. I was never worried that my husband would not live up to his vows because I know him and I trust him.
I think you know a person’s character when you see how they deal with adversity. When I met my husband, he had just put his father into a nursing home. My father in law had had 3 strokes, affecting nearly every part of his body. My husband lived with and cared for his father for years. At the time he should have been enjoying college and being a young professional, he showed his love and commitment to his father by nearly single handedly caring for his dad for years, as his father began to deteriorate. The choice of whether my father in law could stay home with my husband was decided for him by the State of Florida in the months before I met him. My father in law became part of my responsibility as well when we married and the nursing home staff knew us very well in the ensuing years.
Caring for family and living up to family expectations is written in my DNA and so it was with my husband, despite the fact that we come from very different parts of the world and from very different cultures. My husband and I, we think very similarly and I didn’t worry my husband would leave when things got hard. I didn’t worry that he would shirk his responsibilities when things got hard.
Not only did my husband not leave me, when my family suggested that we move to be with them for help, he agreed. He agreed to move in with his in laws. I’m not sure that many men would have agreed to give up his autonomy, change his job, move hours away from his own family, and live with his father in law and mother in law. Yet, that is exactly what my husband agreed to do and did.
My husband shows his love and concern for me in a variety of ways, every day. When it comes to my cancer, he is about as interested as I am in the current research and he has accompanied me as my caregiver to a variety of events, including the Die in and stampede in Washington DC in 2018. He’s always up for helping with the boys and he does not fuss about any of the funds I spend on complementary care for the host of ongoing side effects I’m managing.
He shows up and continues to show up.
I think one of the hardest things I’ve had to come to terms with in this process of learning to live with a terminal diagnosis is thinking of the next woman to be in my husband’s life. At first, I dreamed of haunting this person and making her life miserable. I updated my trust to make sure that my children get the full benefit of the funds I will leave after my death and to keep this fictional woman from getting anything, along with her fictional children. I was pretty awful to my husband in my efforts to control how things would happen because I was scared out of my mind that I would be forgotten, that my contributions to this world and to our family would be for naught.
After a few years, I’ve gained a little perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still seething that someone will get to do life with my husband and precious children. However, with a little perspective, I can remember that my husband picked me, so he’s a pretty good judge of character. Also, he’s a really good husband and my kids are freaking amazing, so the next woman in my husband’s life will be extremely lucky. I’m trying to get to the place of being ok with that, to give my husband permission (not that he really needs it) to look to someone else to meet his needs after I’m gone. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m trying. There may be a list of instructions somewhere … hey, I’m trying, but I haven’t been able to let go of my need to try to control things.
Before I close, I do want to say something about caregivers. It’s a hard, thankless job to watch the person you love suffer. It is a hard, thankless job to know and understand that the person you love is terminal. Caregivers are so often forgotten and don’t get the support they need. Just don’t forget to say thank you, to support your caregivers and make sure they have down time, time to escape the reality of cancer, and time to do the things they love.
To Elliot, my love and husband, thank you for being you, for being the amazing husband and father that you are, and for never flinching in the face of obstacles. You are a catch and I want all that life has to offer you, even if I can’t be in your life any longer. Don’t forget to live and to show our boys how to live. All my love, forever and always.