When talking with other husbands about my wife Brenda’s cancer diagnosis and current status they commonly say something like, “I don’t know how you do it!” Part question, part statement – it got me thinking what can you do? What am I doing?
Brenda was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer. Her cancer is labelled as “terminal” and by that an oncologist means that it cannot be cured. (We realize the X factor is of course God.) This prognosis is something we never anticipated would happen, but it can and it did. Prior, I had never given one thought as to how I might handle such a situation.
When stating “I don’t know how you do it” a man reveals a moment of self-reflection. He is imagining being in my circumstance and wondering what he would do if faced with a similar challenge. So, at the risk of being superficial, let me share some of what one can do if your spouse is staring death in the face.
2. Don’t be selfish. There are many times you will be tempted to throw a pity party for yourself – but your focus must be on the care of your loved one. Put their needs ahead of yours. Use inspiration for your attitude from The Princess Bride where Westley’s response to Buttercup’s demands is always “As you wish.”
3. Try not to whine. Yes you have experienced losses but try not to layer those onto what your spouse is experiencing. Don’t be thinking about what you do not have. This is related to the point above but with more of an encouragement to view time properly. Keep a long-term perspective.
4. Make a point of celebrating. Treasure the moments when a deep richness breaks through. Laugh when you can. Soak up truth and grace in those moments – times when you feel so much love between one another that you would not really want to trade it.
5. Lower your expectations. Pain causes us all to act in ways different from how we normally are. This means there will be moments of ‘oddness’ we need to put up with it. Lift yourself above the moment and realize these are unusual days. Just get over it.
6. Trust God. Regardless of the outcome I realize that I can trust God in all of this and that provides hope. Hope plays a HUGE factor in a cancer patient building up their immune system to help fight the cancer. Hope with them. Don’t place your hope in false or weak things. Don’t create false hope. Instead trust in God all of the time. Early on in our journey I realized God wanted me to fully trust Him. He actually wants us to live everyday like that. He is a God of hope.
7. Be positive. Be a glass half full kind of person. You know the question, “Is the glass half empty or half full?” It’s a way of determining if you are an optimist or pessimist. During a cancer journey you will experience all sorts of twists and turns along the way. Try, in each situation, to look for bright spots and recall with one another the things you are thankful for.
8. Focus on better days. Help your spouse not to dwell in the past. It is hard for them to remember what life used to be like when they had energy or hair. Instead, encourage them to save their energy for looking forward to enjoy one day at a time. Lean into each day and discover what purpose God might hold in it for you two to learn and experience together.
9. Be tenacious in your love and care. Keep doing all these things despite how difficult it might be. I have a coffee mug with the 1939 British motivational quote, “Stay calm and carry on” to reminder me. Make sure your loved one knows you are there – right there for them – always. Go out of your way to assure them by speaking their love language.
10. Take care of yourself too. Remember that to be any good in caring for your loved one, you must care for yourself too. Get rest; have close friends you can talk to; invest in others; pray; and arrange to have some breaks. Taking care of yourself is part of taking care of your spouse.
I did not start all of these things just because of Brenda’s diagnosis but because I love her. They were instilled in the covenant I made to her on our wedding day. It is found in a Bible passage that was read over us as a blessing and is from 1 Corinthians 13:4,6-8.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love does not want what it does not have.
Love…takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies.
What might you add to this list?