A salute to the caregivers.
A diagnosis of breast cancer can be devastating. Breast cancer survivors will tell you that a strong support network is a key element in any treatment program. This year during Cancer Awareness Month, we tip our hats (pink of course) to the caregivers who provide support, encouragement, prayers and sometimes just a hand to hold.
We talked to Michael Murphy, Dennis Moloney and Jeremy Hawkins−three husbands whose wives have battled breast cancer. We asked them to share their thoughts, feelings and advice.
Describe your feelings/emotions when your wife received her diagnosis.
Michael: We had made the commitment early that this cancer would not change us. It changes everything. Mostly for the better, you find out quickly how strong you both actually can be. You also find out how much your body can take, mentally and physically.
Dennis: My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in April of 2014. My first thought was why her? Sam has always taken care of herself−watching what she ate, regular exercise and self exams. It didn’t seem right or fair. And actually, one of her self-exams led to the early detection. Thank goodness for that!
Jeremy: I was honestly shocked. She had the place on her breast checked the year before and was told it was a cyst. That was what we both had thought this doctor would confirm as well. She was also young, only 27, so cancer was the last thing we were expecting. I was also naturally worried. I had just lost my grandmother to breast cancer not long before Shaan was diagnosed, and our second daughter had just been born 6 weeks prior to her diagnosis. There was just a lot going on and being thrown at us really quick. But I knew no matter how I felt, I had to be her rock and remain positive on the outside.
What did you do to show your love and support during treatment?
Michael: Being there for every chemo treatment, doctors appointment, surgery and everything I could make. My job takes me all over the country and balancing both was a challenge. Our family support group was amazing. ( I wore a lot of pink … I don’t like pink.)
Dennis: I went to all of the doctor appointments with her and asked questions each time, so I could understand exactly what was going on, and apply that info to supporting her in the best way(s) possible. Sometimes, it was the little things that meant the most to her. Having had a double mastectomy, followed by several reconstructive surgeries, there were many times when Sam was at home recovering, and she would get restless and want to get out for bit. I was happy to drop whatever I was doing, and we would go out−whether it was just for a drive or whatever. Getting out helped her feel better, both mentally and emotionally. I also stepped up and played the role of “Mr. Mom” to our son Max (who was 14 at the time). Whether it was chauffeuring him to a friend’s house or to the movies; whatever was necessary to keep things running smoothly. It was important to both Sam and I to keep things as normal as possible for Max.
Jeremy: I attended all of her appointments with her, kept life at home as normal as possible, helped with our girls and took time off work for each chemo and surgical appointment. It put a financial strain on us, but I knew I needed to be with my wife.
What are the challenges of being a caregiver?
Michael: Watching, not being able to take away any pain or discomfort from her. The watching is the hardest part of the caregiver, hoping the day passes by quickly for her due to the effects of the chemo. The recovery after the surgeries, time can drag and the healing process continues to this day.
Dennis: I didn’t feel like there were any “challenges.” All I wanted to do was anything and everything I could to make my wife feel comfortable with what was going on, and make things as easy as possible for her and what she was going through. That’s what a loving, caring husband does.
Jeremy: Knowing there is nothing you can do but be there. You can’t take the pain, sickness, tiredness, needle pricks or surgeries away. You can only simply be there. And that’s hard when you want to take it all away from them.
How did this experience impact relationships with your wife, kids, family, friends?
Michael: This has had the most amazing impact on both of us. Our family, friends were amazing. Her mother was at every step, so were our boys, cousins, family and our friends. People came from all over the country to give her the love and support she needed. We are truly blessed to have each other and the most amazing family and friends!
Dennis: The most interesting thing to me was that after some friends and acquaintances found out about Sam’s diagnosis, a lot of people told us “I’m a breast cancer survivor, too.” And we had no idea. It’s amazing how everyone who is affected by this rallies around each other, shares their stories and offers support. We were fortunate to have an incredible support network of family and friends who really helped us through the whole thing. As far as my wife and I, this isn’t the first curveball life has thrown at us, but it was definitely the biggest one. We’ve always had a great relationship, and supported each other through the ups and downs of life. This experience has certainly given us clarity, and reminds us, once again, what really matters. Sam and I thought the best way to approach things with our son was to be open and honest about what was going on, but try and keep the explanation as simple as possible. We also encouraged him to ask questions anytime he wanted, and we kept the dialogue going.
Jeremy: It definitely took its toll: financially, emotionally, mentally. But in the end we came out a stronger and better couple.
What advice or encouragement would you give to other caregivers?
Michael: Be there, be patient, be strong, be thankful, be understanding, be loving, be everything you promised to each other in your vows and more.
Dennis: Ask questions and talk−both to your spouse and her doctor. The more you know and understand, the better equipped you will be as an individual and as a couple to deal with this head on and in the most knowledgeable way possible. And if you have friends and family offering to help out, let them. Your first instinct is to try and do it all yourself, but people really do want to help and support you. This is a blessing not only for you, but can be for them as well. And, having a sense of humor helps too. Being able to laugh about certain things is great medicine.
Jeremy: Be there. Whether you are just watching Netflix with them while they rest, simply being there is all you can do, so do it well. If there are special things they like treat them to it once in awhile to give them a smile. Be their rock. It’s hard holding it together, but their world is falling apart, and you’re all they have left to hold onto.