Ever since my wife's large cell neuroendocrine cervical cancer diagnosis, I have felt less known as "Matt" and more known as "Stephanie's husband." I never felt that I had a story to tell.
After all, what could I possibly have to say when I wasn't the one fighting cancer?
Coping with my wife's diagnosis
Being the spouse of someone with cancer is hard. As a husband, all I want to do is fix the problem. However, cancer is a problem I can't fix. I can support Stephanie in the best ways I know how. I can be there for her, encourage her and just hang out with her.
But none of those things make the disease leave her body. Since I couldn't do anything to make the cancer go away, I found myself feeling helpless and worthless. And it showed. It showed in my career, and it showed in my relationships with others.
I'm naturally more reserved. Stephanie, on the other hand, is one of the most outgoing, invested people you'll ever meet. She chooses joy no matter the circumstance.
We have opposite personalities. I'm more quiet and introspective. And, like many other men, I never wanted to let on to anyone how I was feeling. If I was struggling, I was afraid of being perceived as weak. So whenever anyone asked how I was doing, the answer was always, "Doing good! Things are going well." That was especially true when things weren't good or going well.
To offset my feelings, I tried to occupy myself. Watch sports, play softball or completely immerse myself in my work. Still, I got mad that the cancer kept coming back.
Finding my voice as a cancer spouse and caregiver
A month or so ago, Stephanie's friends and I threw a big, cancer-free surprise party for Stephanie. It was great. She was surprised, people had fun and celebrated, and there was an overwhelming sense of finality. That Stephanie's cancer journey was over.
My eyes were opened at that party. At one moment in the night, people gave toasts to Stephanie for being a warrior, and then they toasted me, too.
At first, I was uncomfortable and thought they were toasting me just because I was Stephanie's husband. Because I was there, and it was the polite thing to do. But they said that I had a story that can help other people in my position.
I had a story. It was the first time I had really heard it and, because so many others were affirming my story, it was the first time I really believed that I had one. An encouraging word goes a really long way.
For the past three years, I was convinced that I was an afterthought. That I was insignificant in Stephanie's cancer journey. I believed that because I wasn't having surgeries or getting chemo, I didn't have anything to say.
When you're going through something, you never realize any potential impact you have on people who are watching. Even in your lowest moments, the story is still being written. While I still don't fully see myself as an example, the encouragement and love from people who have been watching Stephanie and me is enough to make me believe that I have something to say.