Dr. Rettenmaier had told us that he was waiting for the pathologist’s report. We had forgotten this fact during the two days between the initial discovery of the malignant growth on Lynn’s ovary and the diagnostic paperwork. Lynn had awakened from her surgery to discover that she wasn’t going home, that her doctor had had to remove her whole uterus. After I fetched her computer from home, she pored over all the information she could find on ovarian cancer. The outlook did not look good. I made a point of holding back the grim photo of her excised body parts. She had enough on her plate and everyone was telling me that I had to support her with all my spirit and body.
The exceptions were the husbands and wives of cancer patients, as well as cancer survivors. They told me that I had to take care of myself. One neighbor whose wife had had breast cancer told me that the most important thing I had to do was tell my wife that I loved her every day. But he also empathized with the pressure I was under.
I must confess that I still feel a little selfish when I remind people that I am under stress — perhaps more stress than Lynn. The cancer patient has to go through the motions of treatment, but everyone rallies around her or him. People expect the spouse to take the lead in this. The fact remains that my wife has been living with a potentially fatal illness. How can the squeezing you feel in your chest measure up against the palpable tumors that appear on sonograms and post-operative photos? Where’s the drama in a headache? You feel terrifically alone. The party — if you dare call it that — isn’t going to be about you. You tell people, but most of them give you the glass eye.
To survive, I made time for myself to take photos and take walks. I made sure to get home every night to look after the animals. This task made me feel of some use. When someone1 suggested that the filthiness of our condo required that we get rid of the cats, I felt sick and started to cry. Lynn had a massive support system of which I was an important part. But the cats and the dog were going to be my support system. Lynn’s oncologist scoffed at the idea of ridding ourselves of the animals — “You’re not brittle!” he told her — and our vet provided us with information about living with chemotherapy and keeping your pets. Armed with this, I simply told the people who were telling us that we had to do this “The pets are off-limits.”
On the backs of this resolve came better news: Lynn had endometrial cancer. It would be a few days before we got an idea of how bad, but even with a 10 to 15% depreciation of her survival chances2, it was certainly a more sanguine prospect than the 46% assigned to ovarian cancer. I felt that we were going to make it. But there were major projects to undertake before Lynn could move back into the condo.