April is a promise that May is bound to keep. ~Hal Borland
The other day I received a nice thank your from the representatives of Phil & Amy Mickelson’s Foundation in response to my letter about dealing with breast cancer in a family with young children. It really did put a little spring in my step.
I was spurred to write that note to one of my favorite golfers when I read about the hard time that he was having dealing with the thought that his wife was suffering at home and he was in a sport where he was traveling away from his family. He was tormented and reacting on instinct. I just thought he needed to know about some of the resources available to husbands of breast cancer sufferers and I’m glad I reached out.
Phil is one of those husbands who give men a good name. When it comes to breast cancer, let’s face it, men just have a rotten name. It isn’t that they don’t deserve it. Some men have just not “done the right thing” by not being understanding, leaving their wives at a hard time, or just running from it al . And those few men have made it hard for men to be understood. The emotions flow and rage enters the picture. I totally understand and empathize with these women and also with their husbands at the same time. I guess that is because I know where both sides are coming from. These women think their husbands might be insensitive or not understanding, but there really is some “reasoning” for some of the behavior.
Recently I got into a discussion with some women online after a woman’s husband was insensitive. At first I read about it and thought, “here we go again, another man ruining the name of husband”. Then I said to myself…wait, I’m not much better. That could very well have been my own wife complaining about me.
Cancer is a tough ordeal. For a man who has to watch his wife suffer with breast cancer, there is no greater feeling of helplessness. We’re men. We like to fix things and there is nothing more that we want to fix is the broken pieces of the only woman in our lives that means more to us than our own mother. For me, the drains, the blood and the visits to the doctors (things I was not comfortable with) were just part of the healing process. Most men don’t want to talk about their fears and especially with their own wives who don’t need to hear from their husband about how scared they are when right now they might need a rock or a sounding board and not a whimpering husband. Heck, they’ve got cancer, not us! When we aren’t that rock or sounding board though, then we get that bad rep. Quite frankly I think my wife got tired of all that smothering. She didn’t want to be thought of as sick and my fawning all over her just reminded her of her illness.
The monthly doctor appointments are continuing shots and side effects of her cancer trial drugs have become a normal part of life that get acknowledged quickly before we go to bed at night.
“How did it go?”
“Okay, I only waited for 45 minutes. The shot was easier this time.”
“Great. Good night.’
It really has become casual in conversation because of her desire to ease my burden and not have my attention focused on her. Similarly I have to pay extra special attention to let her know that I do know she isn’t out of the woods. She needs to know that if she wants that attention, I will give it to her.
So back to the discussion, the husband was asked by a wife about what her thought of her recent construction. The husband was pretty dismissive and understandably the wife was a bit upset. At first I wanted to jump on that bandwagon of saying what a jerk the husband was. Now I love my wife and “not just her breasts”. They has always been an asset for her before cancer and she’s been always conscientious about their appearance, but I do find myself trying to remind her that I don’t mind her focusing on them health-wise, but it is heremotional well-being that I care about more. So in my case when asked about her scars and if the neckline on her dress is too low and her scars show, I do want to tell her she looks beautiful, but a woman knows her husband and what he feels just by looking in his eyes. She knows that I know they look and feel different. A woman after reconstruction knows that a husband might not look at her bare breasts the same way (better or worse in appearance), but I know for me it was her eyes, her mind, and other parts of her which remained untouched…or maybe untouched by human hands but they are still the same ones that were part of her when we got married. I will at some point look at her reconstruction as part of her and without hesitation.
Just like your scars, it takes time to heal and feel comfortable again for you to discuss them with your husband. Actually, while I don’t mind discussing with my wife about the cancer, I just don’t want her to focus on the appearance of her new breasts. I do want her to be happy with them, but I don’t want to obsess about them. My wife would rather me tell her how beautiful she looks in her new dress without prompting than to have a 20 minute discussion on if her scars are fading, if I see rippling, or other imperfections. I’ve had those discussions and while productive, the conversation did not seem natural (no pun intended).
The reconstruction part of cancer recovery really does belong in the domain of the woman. I didn’t want to look like one of those husbands who “shaped his wife’s looks”. In the end I took my wife “for better or for worse”. My wife chose her option and I am happy with it as long as she is happy with it. As I look at it, as husbands we have no choice in what your original breasts looked like, we have no choice in marrying women who were stricken with breast cancer, and we should not be a major contributor in deciding what your new body should look like. What we do have a choice in is being sensitive to our wife’s emotional feelings and we do have a choice to love them unconditionally.
I mentioned that human hands did not touch my wife’s eyes, mind and spirit, but they have changed through cancer too. She is more proud and confident of where she is because of what she has been through. I find her strength to be the biggest turn on. It makes her more beautiful than ever.
Last weekend was the unofficialbeginning of Summer with MemorialDay and we took that time for the whole family to clean the house and continue with our post-cancer journey. We threw out the old cancer information pamphlets, the left over get well cards, the sample drain pump and the tons of bedside reading material that was accumulated. We’re all moving on. We’re cleaning those cupboards. We’re fixing our lives and coming on stronger than ever.