Something Wicked This Way Comes: When Cancer Comes to Your House by Rick St. Peter
I had completely dismissed it. "No way do you have cancer," I said to Lara. "They just need to rule that out so we can find out what is really going on."
I was wrong.
In October of 2013, my wife was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer that had spread throughout her body. She had just turned 43, and we both had recently started new jobs. Our kids were 14 and 8. Despite her heroic efforts, we lost her 23 months later. I spent those 23 months helplessly standing by and watching my best friend, my partner of 23 years and my wife of 18 years, slowly wither away. Our relationship changed from an ongoing partnership to one where I became caretaker of her and our two kids. There were many times I wanted to run away. There were many times I raged against the gods and what fate had done to us. Our lives were supposed to be perfect at this point. Why did this happen to us?
Lara and I vowed early in her fight that we were going to live as normal as possible as long as possible. The summer of 2014 we took our kids to Disney World. That November her and I went to London, which was going to be our original honeymoon destination but being poor grad students at the time we couldn't afford it. Meanwhile she had surgeries and chemo and radiation and medications and continued to teach her classes. I cast her in a show I directed. (Directing her in her final performance is one of my career highlights.) And we persevered for as long as we could. The summer of 2015 she was supposed to go with me on a trip to Montreal when she had a series of seizures that hospitalized her for the remainder of her life.
My daughter was selected to attend a prestigious residential performing arts high school and we moved her into her dorm and Lara into hospice almost simultaneously.
And then she was gone.
Since her death, I have had friends and colleagues thrust into a similar role as me – wife or partner is diagnosed with breast cancer. "Now what do I do?' they often ask me. I wish I could give advice, but every situation is unique. Sometimes I resent being the person they ask for advice. Sometimes I will see extremely unhealthy people in public and silently wonder to myself why they get to live and I lost my wife, and I hate myself for that.
Sometimes I feel like my daughter resents the fact that it was her mother and not me. She was 16 and they were getting to the point where their mother/daughter bond was solidifying into an amazingly beautiful friendship and that was ripped away from her. I don't begrudge her feelings, though I wish I could figure out how to bridge the gap between us. If you want me to hate you, tell me it was all part of God's plan. God is not high on the list of people – real or imagined – I am interested in having conversations with right now. So, if I can offer any advice if you find yourself in a similar situation it is simply this:
Live. Live for each other. Live for her. Live for yourself.
Your world will be turned upside down. Understand that immediately. People will say things to you like, "Oh you're so brave," simply because you are standing there looking like a lost idiot next to your partner while she fights for her life. It's not bravery. It's living. What choice do you have, unless you are Newt Gingrich? (More advice: Don't be like Newt Gingrich.)
And if you lose her, understand that you have to go on living. People may resent you for that. And it will be hard. But you owe it to yourself to try to find some small place of happiness in an increasingly dark world. Otherwise, one death becomes two and there is nothing sadder than a person with nothing to live for.
Anyway, that's all the advice I have to give.
Note: Lara's birthday is October 14. The irony of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month is sadly not lost on me. I am having a fundraiser on my Facebook page for the National Breast Cancer Foundation and I encourage everyone to please consider making a donation either individually or through my post. Thank you.