Here is only a brief description of my experience with cancer. My wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer ten years before her death at age sixty seven. During those ten years prior to her death, I provided essentially all care for her comprised of a vast array of methods to suit her medical condition. This is my story in hopes other husbands and significant others can somehow be comforted and know that their struggles are shared with millions of survivors.
There are several risk factors for the disease. There is a belief that ovarian cancer causes can occur more frequently in women who’ve never had children, early onset of menarche, or menopause at an older age. Its diagnosis is typically one of exclusion. There are many symptoms of ovarian cancer that are also common with other diseases. There is no cancer cure for this disease. This is not a blood cancer that could typically be treated with at least some resolution and chance of cure or remission.
Ovarian cancer is the seventh largest cause of cancer in women and the eighth most cause of death from cancer. In 2012, it was estimated that the worldwide death toll was 152,000 per year. At its core, ovarian cancer is a deadly disease. It’s considered a diagnosis of exclusion. That is, the initial symptoms of ovarian cancer are also symptoms of a wide variety of other conditions. Once all these other conditions have been excluded, it is usually only then when ovarian cancer is suspected. This makes it a very tricky disease indeed.
My wife was having some indigestion and felt a lump in her abdomen where a hernia would be. She went to our family physician who agreed it could be a hernia which could be removed with a common surgical procedure. She went to a surgeon for x-rays and more discussion. While normally waiting three or four days, she was called early the next morning to discuss the results of her x-rays. The news was devastating. My wife had ovarian cancer that had spread to a number of organs and was considered inoperable. The surgeon gave us each a hug and let us remain in the examination room to absorb this tragic news. My wife was young, only 57, vibrant and full of life. She was a bit overweight but not restricted in her activities. We went to see her primary care physician after leaving the surgeon’s office. He told us even more bad news. Due to the wide range of symptoms victims of ovarian cancer have, it is often caught too late for any effective treatment. Such was the case with my wife. We discussed that early death was inevitable. We were told the average time from diagnosis to death was anywhere from two to ten years. He confirmed the opinion that any kind of operation would do no good. We were told we would be very busy with her cancer care and we were.
The Long and Winding Road
We then began a wickedly cruel course of treatment. The list of chemotherapy agents we tried are too many to count. She was not treated with radiation. The cancer had spread too quickly. For the next ten years, my wife was bounced around from one combination of chemotherapy to another with a rollercoaster of hopes and setbacks. All the chemotherapy drugs we used would appear to stabilize the cancer only to have the cancer metastasize and become more difficult to control as the treatments continued. Her symptoms for those ten years included increased vaginal bleeding, weeping sores on the soles of the feet and legs, the inability to be touched due to pain from fibromyalgia, and a host of other devastating blows delivered by the disease. She even went into kidney failure for a time. However, that magically went away for some reason we never knew. Each chemotherapy cocktail brought new hope but realistic expectations. We knew she was going to die. It was just a matter of when. Looking back, if she were to have to go through the chemotherapy again, she may not have done it. It seemed we were more involved in treating her death than enhancing her life. Her death was painfully slow and sobering. She was on chemotherapy until about two weeks before she died. Only those left behind could understand that her death was a relief more than a sad occasion. She was finally released from the torture chamber of cancer treatment and delivered to a place where she was in no pain.
The day she was diagnosed was hell. For months, we talked about our shared grief and disillusion and what she wanted to have happen in her time left on earth. For a time, she was clear on what she wanted to be done for her funeral. However, as the years went on and she was feeling worse and worse, it was left up to me to make her final arrangements. During her disease, I was working out of my home and taking care of her 24/7. I did receive some respite from friends and relatives from time to time and this helped more than they’ll ever know. It’s been nearly two years since her death and the lack of intimate touch for that ten years has hit me like a ton of bricks. Her smiles and laughter were gone near the end and I can thank my friends for bringing me back from insanity to a purposeful lifestyle. I miss her very much and will always love her. It is now time for me to move forward and discover a new relationship. That’s an ongoing task.