Feelings! Men don't talk about their feelings! We drill holes in stuff, dig bloody big holes in the ground, fix broken down cars and have sheds full of power tools! Pffft, feelings.
When Em asked me to write an entry on her blog from a blokes perspective about having a wife battling breast cancer, I was a little apprehensive. Writing about it means I have to come clean with her about what I really think and how I really feel. Not sure I am comfortable doing that but we'll see how we go.
Why don't I start at the beginning. The 16th of June 2011 was a date that I will remember forever. I was at work and on my mobile when I could see Emma trying to ring through. At first I ignored it, thinking I would simply call her back when I finished this call but then I saw her try calling through again. It was then that I remembered she was getting her pathology results from the lump she had found a few days earlier. I suddenly had a very bad feeling this was not going to be good news. I cut the call short and phoned Emma back straight away. Just as I suspected, it was bad news. Malignant breast carcinoma! Em was understandably distraught and I did my best to console her over the phone before telling her I would leave work immediately and come straight home.
When we finally met with the surgeon for the first time, after what felt like the longest weekend of our lives, it all started to hit home. They'd actually found four separate lumps (turned out to be three after the surgery) and he advised that mastectomy was the only option available. I remember looking at Em when he said that word; mastectomy. I was surprised at how well she seemed to take it. I don't remember her tearing up at that point but rather asking several more questions. It was not until he advised her she'd need to undergo 4-5 months of chemo. That's when the tears started to flow. Something about that word; chemo. The Doctor handed Emma his tissue box, strategically placed on the corner of his desk and I remember thinking geez, he must go through a lot of those!
Suddenly, I'm a damn breast cancer expert! I'm using medical terminology, some of which I'd never heard of before. HER2 negative, ERPR positive, DCIS, BRCA2 gene, lumpectomy, mastectomy, mammogram, FNA, core biopsy, axillary clearance, chemotherapy, radiation, the list goes on. In addition, I'm being told not to drink the water out of our taps. Not to eat the meat in the supermarket. Or the fruit, or the vegies. We need to switch to a fully organic diet. Why didn't I know about this before this breast cancer news and why isn't everyone worrying about this stuff?
So what do I tell my girls when they ask what's wrong with Mummy? Do they understand? Do they really know what their Mum is going through? What do I say to Jazzy when she says one of her little pre-school friends said she doesn't like her Mums hair? How do I help my wife, the woman I love, the mother of my children? I'm not a doctor! What the hell do I say when she tells me she had a dream about dying again last night? When she says she feels like a ticking time-bomb? When she cries, out of the blue, just sitting on the couch watching tv or doing the dishes? When she tells me she's petrified this cancer will come back, and she doesn't want to miss out on seeing our girls grow up? Watch them get married and have children of their own. To tell you the truth, I've been making it all up as I go. Absolutely winging it! I really don't know if the answers I have provided were right or wrong, but ultimately, I have just tried to keep as calm, realistic and positive as I possibly can.
So back to my feelings. Of course all blokes have them. But in this particular case, just how much should I share with you? Before writing this paragraph, I wrestled with my thoughts of what might come of it if I was to write about the reality of this disease potentially getting the better of Emma one day. Finally, I asked her what she would like me to do and she answered with a rather matter-of-fact kind of response, that all I'd be doing is being realistic and that I should write about it.
I have really only thought about the possibility of Em not beating this cancer once. We were in the surgeons office after her second round of surgery and he was giving us the 'stats'. Em was given only a 35% chance of surviving this cancer if she chose to do nothing further, after her two lots of surgery. For me, that was a significant moment. My thoughts immediately turned to my two little girls. What the hell am I going to do if Em is not around anymore? How will I raise them on my own? How will I work? Pay the bills? Teach them to be good, kind and considerate young girls? Talk to them about 'girlie' stuff when they become teenagers? STOP! That sort of thinking doesn't help anyone! I don't think like that anymore. It is all positive now and I love her so much that nothing I picture in my future doesn't include her in it!
As horrible as it sounds, I just keep thinking that we are still better off than many others out there in the world. Some people don't have the opportunity to 'cheat' death. When their number is up, they could be hit by a car tomorrow. I feel like we're actually very lucky to have been given an opportunity, by the powers that be, to fight this cancer. We know where we stand and what we have to do to beat it.
To those of you who know Emma well, you'll agree with me when I say that Em is one of the kindest, happiest, most caring and thoughtful people you're likely to ever meet in your lives. The world would most certainly NOT be a better place without her in it! She is always smiling and has an infectious, bubbly personality that I have always admired about her. I just wish I could protect her from this and make it all go away. That's what this all comes down to. As her husband, I feel the overwhelming need to 'protect' her and I struggle with the realisation that much of this fight is Emma's and Emma's alone.
We don't sweat the small stuff anymore. We enjoy spending family time together. Every now and then, when our girls are playing together or being extra-specially cute, Em and I often look at each other and, almost like we can read each others minds, we just have that overwhelming love that any parent has for their children. Those are the moments that I cherish most. They are family moments. Mum and Dad moments that I want to continue to have for many, many years to come. With Emma, by my side.
As Emma has mentioned several times already in her blogs, the support from our family and friends has been unbelievable. From our parents, Em's sister Liz and family (Liz shaved her head with Em - what an absolute bloody legend!), our close circle of friends, Emma's work colleagues and the Pre-Primary School Mums (and Dads) who have all played a part, in numerous ways, to help us deal with this situation. Not to mention the fundraising on her behalf by Organic Home with the "Think Pink for Emma" candles and also Birdy, Goona and Benny and their "Shave for Em" evening. People have just been amazing! How are we ever going to be able to repay them?
If I can offer any advice to those reading this right now, it would simply be to 'stop and smell the roses' people. Don't worry about what you don't have, enjoy what you do have.
Love you babe!