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Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Author Chad Moutray and his daughter Charlotte

Author Chad Moutray and his daughter Charlotte

 I am proud today to host Chad Moutray, author of My Life With Laura: A Love Story, on my blog today. Chad is on a blog book tour to promote his book and this is his 6th stop to spend some time discussing his book. While the book details his courtship, wedding, family and then their battle with his wife’s breast cancer, I am going to focus on his efforts as a male caregiver as I am the only male on his book tour and I hope to shed some insight on “the other half” of breast cancer. 

I’ve always said, Route 53 is a blog of my journey through life and while I say each of us has our own journey, we often run parallel with others for part of that road.  Some of us drive fast along that road and others a little slower. These roads are what I call life stages and are created by life events.  Chad and I have separately shared a life event as both of us became caregivers for our wives who had/have breast cancer.  Unfortunately breast cancer seems to be all around us these days days (statistics say 1 in 8 U.S. women will have breast cancer in their lifetime). You might think nothing of it, but in Chad, I found someone who not only went the extra mile for his wife, but truly lays his soul out there for everyone to read in his book.  Sadly, the book does not end happily as Chad’s wife lost a valiant battle. 

 In his book, Chad provides us with the often forgotten perspective on not only the fight against breast cancer, but the emotions surrounding the co-survivor or surviving spouse.  As I read the book, I had to read it away from my wife as it was so easy to put myself in Chad’s shoes.  His story could very easily have been my own.  I hope that other men read it and think of how they would react or want to react if they were put in Chad’s shoes.  Below is my interview with Chad about his book:

Route53: Chad, we’ve shared some chats and emails in recent months.  I don’t know if I’ve said this before, but first let me say that I didn’t know Laura, but have met many “Laura and Chads” over the past several months and am sorry about the loss of your wife and Charlotte’s mother.

Chad Moutray: Yes, sadly, there are too many people in our same situation.  That is why I think that this book has been so well received.  Thank you for your condolences for Laura’s passing.

Route53: Let’s first talk about the inspiration for the book.  I know you say that this book was written for your daughter Charlotte so that she could read about her mom before the memories faded and maybe got a little distorted.  As I read the book, I couldn’t help but see another purpose.  This book was written for many and not just Charlotte.  I read it as a place to put all your love and memories in a safe place so that you could move on.  Maybe in a cathartic way.  How much of this book would you say today (besides Charlotte) is this book for you, for others fighting the battle against cancer, for her family, and for her friends?

Chad Moutray: My original thoughts for the book were to help Charlotte better know her mother.  In fact, the book in dedicated to her, who was two-years-old at the time that I started writing.  (She is now almost four.)  But after I started writing, several friends and family members told me that they wanted to read my book when it was finished.  I had a log of pent-up demand, each of whom was anxious for my to publish my memoir so that they could read it.  In that way, I began writing the book knowing that it could be read by many people, some of whom I did not know.  Since its release, I have been proud of the fact that so many people have appreciated the book and have been inspired by Laura’s strength and faith in battling her breast cancer. Yes, I found that writing the book was therapeutic for me.  In the months after Laura’s death, it gave me a project to work on during those quiet moments in the house.  It also allowed me to reflect on the times that I spent with Laura, both good and bad, and more importantly, it provided me a forum to put my thoughts on paper.  I would encourage anyone going through a loss to start writing, whether they make their words public or not.

Route53: For me, the hardest part of the book was reading Laura’s journal entry to you and about what she wanted for you and Charlotte.  My wife felt close to doing the same thing so I felt like I was reading my wife’s own letter.  When did you first read that entry and how much does it enter your mind to this day?

Chad Moutray: Men, of course, are taught to never read their girlfriend’s or wife’s journal, and I did not open them until after Laura’s death.  I was surprised by many of her entries.  She expressed her thoughts on daily life, her frustrations with motherhood and then in battling breast cancer, and her religious inspirations.  Some of these entries were difficult for me to read.  I was particularly touched by the letter that you cite, but mostly, I was surprised at its timing.  She wrote about her desires for Charlotte and me after her death … but it was written over one year before she passed away at a time when the thought of this was far from most of our minds.  While I did not read this letter until later, much of it sounded familiar, as she and I had discussed some of it in the months before her death.

Route53: Every woman who finds out she has breast cancer remembers the phone call or the doctor giving the diagnosis.  I think husbands do remember too.  I know I do and I know you do.  I often get women who write me saying they wish their husband was as supportive and I always think that the moment you hear is when you know how you will be.  You and I both took that step forward instead of back   To what do you attribute your strength in the face of Laura’s battle with cancer?  What made you the supporting husband that you were?

Chad Moutray: I would refer to two things.  First, I remember my grandfather growing up.  My grandma had a number of heart attacks and was often hospitalized. He remained a beacon of strength throughout her ordeals (despite the fact that she survives him by almost thirty years), and it left an indelible imprint for me on the role of the “man” in such situations.  You are to be a “rock” – someone who everyone looks to for support.  You can see much of this in my actions during this time.  In public and in front of Laura, I was that “rock” even when I was privately hurting inside.   Second, like Laura, I relied more and more on my faith, growing more spiritual as time progressed.

Route53:  What would you say Laura’s battle with cancer taught you about yourself?  Has it changed you or your actions at all?

Chad Moutray: It changed me forever.  I am a different person today than before.  Yes, life goes on, and it has for me.  But, I have a different outlook, and I feel compelled to “give back” to the many people who were so helpful to us during our struggle.  In some ways, the book also is my expression of this.  I tried to write an honest book that showed the true challenges of battling cancer, and in that way, it appears to have helped or inspired some of the cancer families who have read it.

Route53: You mentioned that you hid your fears from Laura and when you did open up, she tried to protect you.  I found the same with my wife.  According to a US News and World Report story, they say the men who are successful in coping as breast cancer caregivers for their wife do two things:  1) Rather than try to be “fixers”, they lend an ear to help with coping and 2) They share everything together.  What are your thoughts on that?

Chad Moutray: As the “rock” that I mentioned earlier, I never let Laura see my emotions.  In hindsight, that was probably a mistake.  Laura would have preferred that I had expressed myself more to her.  Had I done that sooner, she might not have tried to protect me later. 

Route53:  As Laura’s primary caregiver, what were your main resources of information about Breast Cancer that you think would be helpful for other spouses?

Chad Moutray: I relied on information from books, handouts, and the Internet.  Laura, to be honest, relied on these sources even more than I did.  But, my most important source of information was the doctors themselves.  I tried to go to as many of the doctors visits as I could.  This allowed me to show my support for Laura, but it also ensured that I knew as much about her treatments and progress as she did.  Sometimes, the doctors provided an enormous amount of information during a short visit, and she would often comment that it was good to have two sets of ears listening to it.  

Route53: If you could pick one thing, what did someone do specifically for you, the caregiver, to help you through the year and half fight against breast cancer?

Chad Moutray: We had tremendous support from family and friends.  Our church, for instance, was always there providing meals, rides, care for Charlotte, or someone to talk to.  I cannot see how we would have been able to do all that we did without this support.  In later months, we relied on lotsahelpinghands.com to post our needs, get volunteers, and communicate Laura’s progress.  This was a godsend which helped ease the burden of caring for Laura at a time when her health continued to deteriorate.

Route53: When I read the book, I was amazed at all that you accomplished in just a year and half of cancer in your lives.  Can you point to one moment or thing that you did that made you feel that you made Laura’s last days on this Earth richer and less painful?

Chad Moutray: Laura did not let cancer stop her from doing things, and our oncologist supported her in this.  We went on a number of vacations, including to Aruba and two other beach trips in the summer of 2007.  These trips were a lot of fun, and Laura looked forward to each one.  She was also the type who put things on the calendar hoping that we might go to them.  One of those was a wine tasting event at Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s home, in the fall of 2007.  By that point, Laura was in a wheelchair, but she still wanted to go; we went on a double-date with another couple.  It was our last date together, but one that I will never forget.  (This story is not in the book.)  She clearly life to the end.

Route53: Sometimes “bad husbands” who abandon their wives when they can’t handle the stress give men a bad name in the fight against breast cancer.  Actually a 1999 Canadian Study called, “Marital Stability After Breast Cancer” found that there was no difference in divorce rates and separation  when looking at similar groups of men with wives who had breast cancer and those who did not.  Stories like yours obviously give men a better reputation.  If you could give advice to other men (and wives) out there who are going through rough times in their battle, what would you tell them?

Chad Moutray: Life does not always go according to plan, and it is easy to say the cliche, “That is not what I signed up for” and call it quits.  Laura and I met, fell in love, got married, and had a child; it was the typical life plan.  But, then it changed, and life became difficult.  Many of our friends went on to have second or even third babies, and Laura was secretly jealous of them.  Cancer was not what she signed up for either.  We were a young couple and kept hoping for a miracle. When things deteriorated, it was not easy; I prayed for patience, and I was stretched thin.  To be honest, though, I never considered abandoning Laura.  After she passed away, several women came up to me and told me how impressed they were that I stayed with Laura until the end.  The comment surprised me.  I loved my wife, and Laura and Charlotte needed me too much.

Route53: Last, please give us an update on Charlotte and your state of mind.  Have you fully been able to move on?  Now that it has been over a year, have you seen any emotional scars for Charlotte?

Chad Moutray: Laura will always be in my mind.  Charlotte will guarantee that; in addition to being Laura’s daughter, she looks exactly like Laura.  Such a constant reminder makes it difficult at times.  Yet, life moves on.  Writing the book helped a lot, and after several months, I began to date again.  This was awkward at first, but easier now.  It helped that Laura was so insistent that I move on and find someone nice to help raise Charlotte (even to the point of trying to set me up); the fact that she said this to so many people made it easier for others to accept my dating, as well.  As far as Charlotte, she is adjusting to full-time daycare and is doing okay.  She still talks about her mother and can tell you that her mother died from cancer … but has no idea what cancer is.  Someday, I hope that she enjoys my book and learns about how fun her mother was and how strong she was.  

Route53: Chad, once again, thank you, Laura, and Charlotte for sharing your story with all of us. I know that I have found much empathy and inspiration from your story. Chad’s book can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/content/1828195

 Please continue to follow the blog book tour by following this link to the schedule:

 http://moutray.wordpress.com/2008/12/15/blog-book-tour-schedule/

 Addendum to Post:

Every book means something different for each person.  Although my wife suffers from breast cancer, I read it as a love story.  Even the parts about cancer were about love for me.  Below is an excerpt from an email I shared with Chad after finishing his book.  I hope you all find his book as inspiring as it was for me:
  
I just wanted to let you know that I finished the book.  I admit that I did not feel comfortable reading anything after your eulogy as those letters I feel are words for Charlotte.  I have to say that the book read faster for me once I got to her part with cancer.  Perhaps it was that it was all so familiar to me.  My feelings were similar to yours in many ways and reading her journal entry to you was tough for me.  I hope you don’t mind , but I have discussed your book with the husband’s group at our clinic as you have gone through and they are experiencing many things that I did not have to endure.  I’m also going to pass the book along to one of the fathers at our school who lost his wife at the beginning of the school year leaving he and his two young sons behind.
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