I’ll never forget the moment my husband walked through the front door around noon on a Tuesday. He threw his work bag down and flung his sunglasses across the entry table, threw his phone across the room, avoided eye contact (I know it’s so he wouldn’t cry in front of me), and yelled, “I don’t know why I’m MAD!” And then the tears came. I hugged him and told him it was okay to be mad, sad, and confused all at once, and it was okay to cry. All while I was trying not to cry. That look of complete pain and devastation in his eyes is one that will never leave me.
Two days earlier, my father-in-law went in for a general check-up. My sister-in-law, his daughter, told him he looked “off,” and she wanted him to go see his doctor. They ran some general tests and noticed his white blood cell count was off, so he was sent directly to a blood doctor. After more tests, he was referred to a different center for further tests to have done the next morning. Tuesday morning. That Tuesday changed everything for all of us, all in a matter of hours. While waiting on more lab results to come in, texts flooded into our family group chat, and I was trying to keep up while I was home with our two girls.
That’s when the photo came through. I opened the photo of a doctor’s business card and saw the word “cancer.” Cancer Treatment Center. My heart sank as I was standing at my bathroom sink drying my hair. Two minutes later my phone rang, and it was my husband. With a shaky voice, he asked me to send our oldest across the street to her friend’s house because he didn’t want her there when he got home. He was on his way back home from work before lunchtime. I knew it wasn’t good. The next several hours were spent on the phone with his mom, dad, sister, and doctor, trying to wrap our heads around everything and the information that seemed to have come out of left field.
Looking back, I made a comment to my husband when his parents were visiting just two months prior (they live out of state) that his dad looked a little pale to me, and he seemed a little unlike himself. My husband brushed it off, chalking it up to just getting older and being exhausted. He’s in his 70s, so that was understandable. But could that have been a sign?
It’s been a little over a month now, and my father-in-law was officially diagnosed with acute leukemia. He’s lucky enough to be part of a clinical trial at one of the best hospitals in the country and is just finishing up his first phase of treatment. We are awaiting the results. His weeks consist of multiple visits to the hospital for blood work, blood transfusions, bone marrow biopsies, and more. He seems to be responding to the medicine well and is in good spirits, so hopefully, that continues and each week brings more answers.
If you’re the wife of a man whose family member is battling cancer, I SEE YOU, MAMA.
No one is prepared for a loved one to be diagnosed with cancer, no matter what kind. But you know what else? I wasn’t prepared for what else comes with it. I wasn’t prepared to be the wife of a man whose father is sick with cancer. I wasn’t prepared to be the daughter-in-law of a man with cancer. I wasn’t prepared to be the mom of a child whose grandpa has cancer, nor was I prepared to have to explain what was going on when her daddy fought back tears in front of her and then left for two weeks to go be with his dad. I wasn’t prepared to be the rock of the family during all of the uncertainty and fear. I am still not prepared. My grandmother had cancer when I was in high school, but I didn’t have to be anything for anyone. This time, I have to be a mom who puts on a brave face for her kids; a wife who is the strong one so her husband doesn’t have to be; the light-hearted one on family group calls when her mother-in-law starts to cry; the one who has to do research on her own because she missed all the important updates while cooking dinner and making sure her kid makes it to gymnastics on time; the one who has to parent solo for two weeks while her husband flies home to be with his family and spend time with his dad at the hospital.
It’s nothing, of course, in the grand scheme of things. My father-in-law is fighting for his life every second of every single day, and my husband wakes up every morning wondering how his dad is doing. What I’m dealing with is absolutely nothing, and I feel silly for even bringing it up. But if you’re going through something similar or having to be the backbone for your own family, just know you’re not alone, mama, and I see you. It’s okay to vent, to talk about it, and to know you aren’t alone in anything — ever.
Educating Myself About Blood Cancer
Nearly 1.3 million people in the United States are in remission or in treatment for blood cancer, according to LLS.org. 1.3 MILLION. That’s a lot of people. Yet, I don’t really know much about blood cancer, nor is it a type of cancer that I hear of too often. Well, that was the case — until about a month ago. I’ve since started to educate myself about the disease in order to better understand it. Here are a few high-level answers to questions I had right off the bat.
What does it mean if someone you know has blood cancer? It means their whole world is turning upside down, but that doesn’t mean it’s ending. Treatment has come a long way with increasing survival rates, but there is still a long way to go.
What is the survival rate?
Ugh. I hate this question and I always hate reading the statistics, but it’s always the first question anyone asks (myself included). Someone in the United States dies from blood cancer approximately every nine minutes. But according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, 66% of people diagnosed with leukemia live five years or longer.
What are the signs and symptoms of blood cancer?
There are no confirmed signs or symptoms, which is why blood cancer can be tough to determine without proper tests and a diagnosis. This is why folks are encouraged to get checkups done for possible signs of the disease, for early detection and treatment. As of now, there are no effective screening programs for early detection (surprisingly), so it’s important to watch for drastic changes in your body, keep up with regular doctor visits, and listen to your instincts.
How can you provide support?
Volunteer, donate blood, get involved, and educate yourself. Find more ways to help patients and caregivers in the fight against blood cancer here.