Lessons Learned From My Husband's Cancer That Helped Me Navigate My Own

As we go through life, there are lessons for us at every junction, every turn, every corner. We learn from teachers, we learn from friends, we learn from experiences and from our mistakes. We learn from books, blogs, study materials, the internet, and friends. Never did I expect or plan to learn from my husband’s cancer, especially things that would help me as I addressed my own cancer and my daughter's cancer.

Everyone on this site is familiar with that awful word: cancer. Each person’s experience is different. Everyone has various resources, tools, and coping methods. I’d like to share some of the things I found in my experience with my husband’s prostate cancer that helped me navigate my own cancer.

The power of information

Shock. The cancer diagnosis can hit with feelings of unbelief, take one’s breath away, and unload a heavy burden of fear. It’s almost impossible to think of anything else, to focus, to sleep, to carry on a conversation. It’s all-consuming.

From my husband’s experience, I learned that the power of information is immeasurable and that it helps get past the shock. It doesn’t matter whether researching prostate cancer or breast cancer or any other kind of disease; information about the disease and how to fight the enemy is available with just a few computer keystrokes.

So much of what we need to know is available. But a note of caution: not everything is credible. I learned that I needed to be discerning as to what was true and helpful and what was not. That was an education lesson in and of itself. The wonders of the internet were predicted back when I was taking some college courses years ago. The instructor told us that the “information highway” would be available in the not-so-distant future where you could learn about anything you wanted. I thought that he was dreaming. But I’m grateful he was right: the information highway is here.

Learning who's by my side (and who isn't)

I also learned that in addition to gaining knowledge, I needed to learn who was on my team. Some friends disappeared; it was almost as if they feared associating with us would pass the disease on to them or they just didn’t know what to do or say. This was a hard lesson when my husband became ill. Sadly, I already understood and was not surprised at a similar pattern when I became ill.

There are the heroes who will travel with you through the journey and those who will disappear behind their fears and discomfort. I think knowing this when I was diagnosed made it easier to accept when some “friends” just disappeared.

It also showed me that I needed to make sure my friends knew they had my full support when needed. I showed my care not by asking “what can I do” but by just doing: making a meal, watching the kids, raking the yard, sharing a good book.

It's important to seek a second opinion

I also learned the power of the second opinion. Dan didn’t have a second surgical opinion and regrets that to this day. We later learned that there were options to what his surgeon had proposed that might have provided far better results than the radical prostatectomy that was performed.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I sought out two surgical opinions. The first surgeon said she could remove the mass but could also leave it, as it was small. The second surgeon was adamant that the mass needed to be removed. The cancer was not as small as initially anticipated, and additional surgery was required.

Had I accepted the first surgeon’s recommendation, I would be treating a far more advanced disease or worse. My daughter saw three surgeons when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Get all the information and options you can before making any decisions.

Sharing our stories can help others

Make your mess your message. I can’t claim that as my thought - I recently read a book by Robin Roberts, “Everybody’s Got Something,” about her cancer journey, and that’s what her mother always told her: make your mess your message.

And that’s one of the purposes of this site. Patients and caregivers can share their messages in the hopes of helping others who are on similar journeys. We all have stories. Sharing those stories may help others more than we ever know.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The ProstateCancer.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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