The 9+1 Things I've Learned From My Wife's Fight With Breast Cancer
Updated: May 7, 2020
So . . . what a title huh? Never thought that I would have to deal with the "C" word. Cancer was always something other people got. Cancer was always my daily prayer list for people dealing with it. Little did I know that I now have my wife Ginny's name on my cancer prayer list. She was diagnosed with breast cancer after her mammogram back in December 2018. She called to check on the results and the admin person told her it didn't look good and was probably cancer! What a way to find out. No sugar coating it.
So what do you do between the six days until the doctor's appointment to discuss the results? Fear. And more fear. The blood rushes from your head and you're left with that cold feeling in your gut. Six days.
Looking back on that from where we are today - double mastectomy, two chemo treatments later, and an excellent prognosis - perspective is everything. Stage 1A, no lymph node involvement, and hope. It could have been worse. Prayer is a powerful thing.
Funny, thinking from the previous blog I wrote, I have a chance to practice what I preached on that blog huh? So in keeping with perspective: it's not about "why me Lord", it's about "what can I learn from this Lord?" "What can you teach me from this Lord?"
So what have I learned so far about my wife's battle with the big "C"?
1. Control your thoughts. After that first conversation Ginny had with that admin clerk, we were engulfed in that suffocating fear response. We could hardly breathe. It was an unbearable weight thinking the worst possible outcome in a sea of no information - or worse - internet information. After our first meeting with the radiologist and gaining more information, the fear became more manageable. The more we learned, the better we understood everything and learned it was not a death sentence like in the movies. Instead of focusing on the fear, Ginny focused on the steps in treating this disease and winning. She wouldn't let the fear paralyze, rather she focused her thoughts on healing. That helped me focus on how I could support her and the actions I needed to take to continue supporting my family and my agents in the insurance business. Thoughts are a powerful thing, both negative and positive.
2. Courage is not the absence of fear but taking action in spite of it. Action is what overcomes fear like light overcomes the darkness. Ginny has this mega pragmatic streak in her where she accepts her situation and assesses her options to kick cancer's butt. Like a warrior assessing the enemy, choosing her weapon and forming a strategy to gain victory. Ginny did the same thing. Presented with her options of getting rid of cancer, she made her calculated decisions of what will get the cancer out of her body quickly and keep it from coming back - killing it dead. So double mastectomy, chemo and reconstruction with hormone therapy for the next five years. Simple decision.
3. Fight fatigue by staying in motion. The advice from our oncologist was interesting to me: "chemo will cause fatigue; in order to fight the fatigue you need to keep moving around - don't sit on a couch!" Fatigue is a feeling, not an attitude. To overcome a feeling the cure is action. It is something we teach all the time but what was interesting is how this advice to fight the chemo fatigue is the same advice to fight any feeling of lethargy, burn out, mundane-ness. A shark must keep swimming to keep oxygenated or they will die. Ginny is a picture of motion. As tired as she is, she still works in our business and fights it every day. Some days are better than others but man, she continues to stay in motion.
4. Don't show weakness - it's a great example. Ginny is great at showing strength and courage, particularly towards our children. Her example to them is amazing. Showing them that Mommy is beating this thing with strength. The only time she really cried in front of them was when we informed them of her diagnosis. And the reason was her compassion for their pain when they heard the news. Other times she cries is the gifts and texts and other acts of love from our network of family, friends and business associates in The Alliance. She is overwhelmed by the kindness and prayers that are done for her. Other than that she stays positive and courageous and does not bend to fear and doubt.
5. Laughter is the best medicine. One thing that we've learned in our marriage is that laughter beats arguing all day long! Of course I am the funnier one in the relationship to which Ginny disagrees. She thinks I'm the more twisted in that way. Nonetheless, we keep it light especially during this cancer thing. While this is a serious thing, knowing that we can laugh in it's face makes us feel that we won't let cancer win. During a meal after surgery when our daughter was home for a month from New York City, she asked my wife, "Mommy, how much (of the entree dish) do you want?" My wife answered, "I'll take one breast," to which I replied after a beat, "don't you think you need two?" And we all just busted out laughing one of those deep belly laughs. Laughter is the best medicine!
6. Stick to a routine. One of the most important things for Ginny is to maintain her life routine after cancer. She is a stickler for keeping her calendar. Only difference now is she has to schedule in the chemo treatments, the weekly hormone therapy infusions, the anti nausea meds, the white blood cell booster etc. And she has to have contingency plans for when he doesn't feel physically up to completing a task. But she sticks to her schedule and maintains as much normalcy in her life as possible. She doesn't want cancer to ruin her life so she stays in control of her life by maintaining her calendar. She stays in control and doesn't let this disease control her.
7. Let others hindsight be your foresight. One of the first things I did, while dealing with the fear of losing my wife was to call a dear friend and mentor Jane Albright since she conquered Hodgkins Lymphoma over twenty years ago. Jane has an amazing quality of making you feel calm, that everything is going to be okay. I needed to hear that from someone who has walked the road we were about to walk. In life, the most important mentors are the ones that are where you want to be and have the fruit on the tree to prove it. Another friend, James Coleman, is another brother whose wife, Angie, also beat breast cancer: double mastectomy, chemo and reconstruction. He has been a very trusted advisor on this for me and has helped us understand what's coming. Just like the Beatles song, "I get by with a little help from my friends."
8. Sometimes you have to make the hard decision for the better path. There are many options when it comes to cancer - chemo first, then lumpectomy; lumpectomy then radiation; surgery first and then chemo. The combinations seem endless. Ginny wanted an outcome based on the lowest chance of reoccurrence. She decided to take the extreme action and do the double mastectomy (even though the cancer was in one breast). She wanted the cancer out now! So she elected to do the surgery first and then chemo after. Then she wanted the reconstruction after the chemo was done. Even though the lumpectomy would have been much easier and kept her breasts in tact, this type cancer has a higher chance of reoccurrence. So while extreme, she didn't want to keep looking over her shoulder. Harder in many respects but the best path.
9. Sometimes you have to let others help you. "No man is an island . . ." the famous John Donne quote says it all. God made us to love each other and to love Him who gave us life. The tendency is to think, "I got this" and not to seek or accept help from others. I'm first born in my family and had no older sibling to show me how things are done. So I always felt that I could figure it out. Well, cancer has this overwhelming ability to make you feel small with nothing but internet information to draw on after the doctors recommendations. When we found out about the cancer diagnosis, my immediate feeling was wanting to circle the wagons and keep this private. Ginny felt otherwise. She told me, "I want as many prayers being offered up for me as possible." She didn't care about privacy, she cared about prayers - accepting others' help to beat this. It takes a bridled ego to accept help. It also takes a compassionate heart to "let" others express their love to you by accepting their acts of kindness. It's good for them and it's good for you.
+1. I can't imagine going through this without the Alliance family. Our business team, The Alliance, with whom I have been associated with and helped build the last 18 years is a family - our family. We're a different type of group. For the Alliance each member is a family member. That's our culture. Everyone comes to us broken in some way. We create the environment for people to realize a better path toward healing and success. Going through this cancer thing has proven again that the Alliance family is a powerful team of love and support and non-judgment that you could ever find. Starting with the leaders of The Alliance, Andy and Jane Albright. You couldn't find more loving and caring people who happen to be the founders and owners of The Alliance, and Ginny and I count them as our most loyal and loved friends. If ever you needed to be part of something bigger than yourself, you couldn't find a better culture of love and support than the Alliance. I am proud of being a part of The Alliance and count my blessings that God has brought Ginny and me here to this loving family.
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come,” 2 Corinthians 5:17.