When I first received the cancer diagnosis in the fall of 2004, my husband, Scott, told me he felt gut-punched. I remember he was so devastated by the news, he had to sit down. He'd been so busy telling me I didn't have cancer, he hadn't considered the possibility I might have it.
While I had my share of anxiety, I trusted that whatever God allowed through the cancer would ultimately be good. Even if I died, I had to believe God was still in control and with us.
Once Scott and I settled into the reality of my diagnosis, we realized that being upset or depressed didn't change our situation. We knew the Bible says to rejoice in all things (Philippians 4:4), and that must include cancer. So we set about to find humor and joy even in the darkest times. For us, that was part of keeping our sanity—and keeping fear at a distance.
It became Scott's goal to make me laugh as much as possible. Early on, when we were discussing a possible treatment of double mastectomy with reconstructive surgery, Scott looked mischievously from me to the doctor and asked, "Do you think we could get an upgrade?"
Although I could have become angry that he wasn't taking my disease seriously, it would have only made the situation worse. His humor lightened the tension and made us all laugh—something we desperately needed.
The grueling treatment begins
During the meeting we opted to start with chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, then lumpectomy surgery to remove the cancer, followed by radiation. I'd begin chemo the next week.
On the drive home, Scott promised he'd go with me through everything. And he did. He accompanied me to every three-hour chemo appointment, drove me home, and stayed to take care of me. He checked every intravenous drug as the nurses hung it on my pole to make sure it was mine. He held my hand and talked non-stop to take my mind off the taxotere and its side effects. When the bag was two-thirds empty, he'd say, "See, you're almost done, and you're fine." I'd start breathing again.
One side effect of chemotherapy is "chemo-fog." In other words, it makes you feel brain-dead. Scott came home from work one night to find me in the kitchen in a complete state of confusion, surrounded by a mess that should have been dinner.
I took one look at him and burst into tears. He wrapped me in his arms, and said, "I know you're just being chemotional" (a term he invented to describe my chemo-induced riot of emotions), "and the Breast Cancer Husband book says I'm not supposed to try to fix it. I'm just supposed to hold you."
He was being so sincere, but so funny. And it was frustrating! Here I was trying to have a good cry, and I kept snorting laughs between sobs.
When my hair started coming out in clumps, I had it shaved to the length of Scott's crew cut. I was on the verge of tears, but Scott just rubbed the top of my head and started calling me "Mini-Me."
He also told me every day how beautiful I was. I never believed him, of course. But he got points for trying. One day I looked in the mirror at my bald head, bleary eyes, and bloated face, and realized, I'm Mrs. Potato Head! I was about to burst into tears yet again, when my ex-naval officer, crew-cut-wearing, engineer-by-training husband came sliding into the room, rocking out on an air guitar and wearing my blonde wig, which was bouncing around his shoulders.
I laughed so hard I nearly wet my pants.
It was kind of difficult to take my appearance seriously after that.
All in God's time
Over and over, we saw how God had his hand on our lives through the cancer. We gained a wealth of experiences. We celebrated everything. We went out to dinner before I started chemo, and we went back to the same table at the same restaurant when it was all over. We went to Walt Disney World to celebrate my recovery. And when my hair started to grow in, we even celebrated my first case of "bed-head."
In God's amazing timing, one week after my radiation ended, Scott's employer transferred him. My hair was just beginning to grow back. It was just long enough to get away without wearing a hat around people I knew.
It was a hot South Carolina weekend, and I was wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and no hat. After all, we were only house hunting, right? Our realtor took us to Sunday brunch where we met several of our prospective neighbors—all of them dressed up. I was so embarrassed, I asked Scott later, "What do you think they thought of me, the way I was dressed?"
"I wouldn't worry about it, honey," he said. "I don't think they ever got past the hair."
That husband of mine. He has his trying moments (like the time he glanced at what I was wearing and asked if I'd been the victim of a closet explosion). But the day I came home from my first follow-up and told him, with quivering lower lip, that I was going on an estrogen-blocker, that my skin would lose its softness and I was likely to really start aging, Scott said without missing a beat, "Well, it's about time you start to look older!"
We didn't have a choice about going through our cancer experience. But we did have a choice on how we could respond to it. When it would have been easy for me to fall into the pit of depression, my husband picked me up and carried me. Through laughter and finding joy, we grew stronger, and I fell more in love with him than ever before.
Today, we appreciate more that our time together is precious, and we're learning to take the joy in each day as it comes. We're a stronger and richer couple for having gone through this trial together.
Lynne Pleau is a freelance writer.
Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.