On February 16th, 2010, my wife DJ and I were home from work early to meet with a representative for repairs on the house. In the preceding weeks, DJ had a few doctor appointments to follow up on some inconclusive ultrasounds during a breast exam, but we were not unduly concerned. Similar situations had happened in the past, with no adverse outcomes. My wife has always been conscientious about her health and wellness, maintaining regular doctor visits, watching what she ate, and exercising regularly. As our repair meeting was ending, DJ received a call on her cell phone. She walked to another part of the house to take the call in private while I finished up with the repairman.
I immediately headed downstairs to check on her; DJ was still talking on the phone. Although I could only hear one side of the conversation, I could tell she was talking to her physician. My wife’s voice was steady and calm, but her body language seemed off. She politely thanked her doctor for the call, hung up the phone, looked at me, told me, “I have cancer” and then broke down and started crying uncontrollably.
Guys never receive lectures in gym class at school to help husbands at times like this, and marriage licenses don’t come with a manual. I was utterly unprepared for how to deal with my wife in her current state. DJ is an extremely confident, focused, and headstrong (trust me, I’m her husband, I know) person. I guess I had always imagined if DJ ever found out that she had a severe illness, she would do what she has always done to previous obstacles in her life: spit in its eye, smack it in the mouth, and send it crying back to momma. That DJ would break down at the news of her cancer diagnosis shocked me to the core. Only then did I realize that cancer was an opponent feared like few others.
The next several hours were a blur to me, like an out-of-body experience. As one of the most traumatic days of my life, I don’t remember that much about it except DJ strangely wasn’t worried about herself. She was far more concerned about her family. Recently her mother was diagnosed with dementia, and DJ had taken over her finances and organized her caretaking. Her youngest brother suffers from Downs Syndrome, and DJ had become his legal guardian when her mother proved unable to continue that role. My wife was worried about the effects on her daughter or our two grandkids. And of course, she was concerned about me. She worried about how cancer would affect our daily lives and our future together.
I calmed her fears as best I could, telling her that her family would be there for her like she was there for them. In my mind, I felt these words were hollow promises. DJ was not used to support; she handled issues on her terms. Eventually, I would find my comments would prove prophetic. DJ was going to climb in the ring to battle cancer. At that moment, I resolved I would be in her corner for every round of the fight.
That day was ten years ago today as I write this post. It was the beginning of two years of treatment, followed by years of worry about the recurrence of her cancer. Her battle left her with physical scars, evidence of the true warrior she is. While she absorbed all the physical blows, my damage was solely emotional. Raised on the tenets that a real man protects his family and loved ones, I felt helpless to ease her suffering from multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, or radiation treatments.
But these last ten years taught us valuable lessons we carry forward to our future. Cancer tested the strength of our marriage, but it could never break it. Now, every day I wake up next to my wife is a blessed day. We take nothing for granted, and the joy we feel over the simple things like taking a walk or watching a movie together is evidence of our resolve that while our futures are never guaranteed, our present is all that matters.