Exactly one year ago I was 4 months pregnant and was told my husband had lung cancer. I remember exactly where I was sitting in the waiting room, Jeff’s family around me, the surgeon who performed the biopsy was still in his scrubs. I went back to see Jeff in the recovery room. He was still groggy, but had the biggest smile on his face for me. The surgeon had not come in to see him yet. The days leading up to the biopsy I was picturing the tennis ball sized tumor in Jeff’s lung with a lower case b on it…”b” for benign. Dammit all, I thought I had willed that thing into being just a nasty infection, but no such luck. I should have practiced putting on my poker face because when I sat down next to Jeff his smile faded. “It’s cancer,” I said.
Fast-forward one year. We’re here and we’re happy! No doubt it was one hell of a year. I’d like to recap the last 12 months in list-form with bits of wisdom, experiences, and thoughts I’ve gathered along the way. I’m going to freestyle two lists, the first one is the Why Lung Cancer Sucks list and the other is the Life Is Pretty F-ing Amazing, But You Don’t Always Realize It Until Your Husband Has Lung Cancer list. Here goes nothing…
Why Lung Cancer Sucks
- Crappy survival rates. Only 16% of lung cancer patients survive 5+ years. Don’t bother doing the math, we plan on being the exception.
- Stigma. No, Jeff never smoked. Why, would he deserve to die if he did? Come on, he is AWESOME!
- No member rewards. Our local hospital does not have a points program. If they did, we’d be getting all of your Christmas gifts for free this year.
- Hypersensitivity. You are forever wondering if your husband’s cough is a product of his cancer getting worse or just a cough (because people just cough sometimes). You wonder if your own cough is a cold or lung cancer.
- Treatment options. Options are expanding, but there’s a long long long long long long long long long way to go. Donate to support research if you can: lungcancerfoundation.org.
- Cancer is a family disease. When your spouse has cancer, the entire family has cancer. Watching your children wrestle with this kind of diagnosis is heartbreaking. They are your reason to be strong. Sometimes they are just your reason to be.
- Brain mets. Many lung cancer patients out there, especially those with stage IV, have to deal with the cancer traveling to their brain. That’s some scary sh*t right there. Fortunately, new targeted treatments are designed to protect the CNS (come on guys, it stands for Central Nervous System…geesh).
- I’m not too tall for this ride. Stage IV lung cancer is not for the faint of heart. Once diagnosed, you and your caregiver (and the people that love you, sorry guys) are in for the long haul. This thing is not curable (yet). Luckily, Jeff and I travel well together.
Life Is Pretty F-ing Amazing, But You Don’t Always Realize It Until Your Husband Has Lung Cancer
- They say cancer brings you closer. It’s true, moments together are sweeter and more meaningful, even the most routine experiences are richer. (Don’t get me wrong, piles of laundry are still a point of contention…I’m sorry, babe, I still hate to fold!)
- The sky on the drive into work is so peaceful. You should take a minute to look at it sometime.
- Your friends will be there for you when you need them to be. They’ve always said they would, turns out they mean it in a big way.
- Planning for life takes time away from actually living it. A lung cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean spending your 401(k) on candy is the way to go either. There’s a balance whether the rug has been pulled out from under you or not.
- You can laugh really hard after a good cry. And you can even laugh about cancer.
- Science is powerful. So is prayer.
- Gifts used to be things in little packages with shiny bows. Cliche or not, each day feels like a gift. We’ll take as many as we can get.
- Learn to love the weather. I’d take a lifetime of long winters AND short summers as long as I could be with Jeff.
- Babies rock. If you’re on the fence about having one, go for it. They change your life in ways you can’t explain.
- Your family will lift you up when you need it most.
- There are amazing people in this world that share in your experiences. Find them, they’ll help you and you will help them.
- If you feel stuck, remember nothing stays the same forever. Sometimes that’s the best reminder someone can give you. (Thanks, Mom.)