This is a guest post by my husband, Sandy Paige, who watched me go through my recent trial with a dear friend of mine as described in the blog post “This Old House.” Here is his take on it, and on life with a cancer wife.
NO SUPRISE AT ALL by Sandy Paige
Often times when I am asked questions about how Ann is doing, I know that people are also wondering “how would I or my loved one react in a similar situation?” The answers I give most often are along the following lines: Your loved one will probably react to cancer as they do their biggest challenges in their life so far. It won’t surprise you. If they need to get away and be alone, they will need to do more of that. If they need family and friends around a lot, they will make that happpen. If they are data-driven and want to know statistics and percentages, they will seek them out. The opposite is also true – if they need to plow ahead with optimism and not get bogged down in irrelevant population-based data – they will do that.
I know this because I watch my beautiful wife — with no surprise at all. None of her heroics surprise me, precisely because she was heroic before she had cancer. These characteristics that surprise everybody are why I fell in love with her — and have fallen more in love over the past 16 years – more than half of which have now been colored by cancer.
Her co-creation of a documentary to track her experience and put it on the film circuit? A one-woman show? Speaking at Mass General’s The 100 Event? No surprise for this journalist, plebian (?) and motivational speaker.
That the documentary and speaking engagements always end with a positive tone of hope and humor? No surprise at all for this hilarious, Irish Catholic girl.
That she would select double-mastectomy when a single could have been supported? No surprise at all for a mother seeking to maximize every possible chance to stay with her children and whose husband shares her goals and priorities.
But she’s not the only one who will perform in line with expectations. You . . .the best friend . . . will also react in line with your best, and worst, emotions and styles. As we have traveled on this journey together, I have often struggled to be the right mate in sickness and health. There are two things Ann needs that sometimes feel contradictory to my simplistic, male, one-track mind. On one hand, she has often said she doesn’t want to be around weakness during this journey, that is drags her down and makes her feel sick. So, I try to be strong her confident wing-man on this cancer road-trip. On the other hand, she doesn’t want to be around fakeness or blindness to reality. But how do I do both . . . and at the right moment? Where are the flashing sign-posts telling me which day it is – which road to take?
What I have learned (or maybe re-learned) recently is that the truth is somewhere in the middle, as it so often is. Ann doesn’t want one or the other from me, there are true moments for both. But I’ll never know which friend she needs unless I’m plugged into the daily cancer grind, create the time to talk, find quiet places for just two friends to connect. Only at that moment we can laugh and cry together — and both easily become the right thing to do.
As her husband, I’m her best friend. But I’m not her only friend. And true friends all learn the same way . . . by doing it right, and also by doing it wrong, but professing undying love throughout. When we miss the mark, we stand back up and try again. We stand up, dust ourselves off, find a smile and try again.
Just like Ann has been doing for nearly 10 years.
After thinking it over, that’s really no surprise at all.