Sadly, there is no manual or guidebook for when your husband receives a testicular cancer diagnosis. Did you even know what testicular cancer was? Did you know that it preys on men ages 15-34 years old? Your world is suddenly flipped upside down and there is not a darn thing you can do about it. You feel completely and utterly helpless. Maybe you cry yourself to sleep, maybe you are in shock, or maybe you keep everything to yourself. You never imagined yourself in this role – you were just married and enjoying life as a newlywed, but now he has cancer and everything is different. The days to come are filled with uncertainties. But, you are absolutely certain of one thing: you will do everything in your power to provide unrelenting love, support, and grace to ensure that your partner, a newly deemed cancer patient, is comfortable and taken care of.
In your new role as caregiver, you schedule appointments, provide transportation, pick up prescriptions, feel helpless as he wakes up from surgery in searing pain, watch in horror as he retches for hours after chemo, you shed tears behind closed doors. And you worry. You worry about everything. Are you doing enough to support him? Has the cancer spread? Is the treatment working? Can we have children? Will he live?
You feel completely alone. Your peers are having babies and buying homes because that is what you do when you are in your mid-twenties. Getting through the day and making sure your husband is okay is the priority now. All other normal life events are put on hold. Your new reality includes things like researching fertility options, figuring out how to pay for the mounting medical bills, waiting for this nightmare to be over while just trying so desperately to hold it all together for the two of you.
Caregiving is a double-edged sword. Sometimes the grief and pain of watching your spouse suffer is almost insurmountable, but then again, you would never trade a minute of holding his hand during a scary doctor’s appointment, standing vigil by his bedside on a rough night, fetching ice cream because his appetite is back after losing so much weight. There are moments of beauty in the chaos.
And with the bad days, there are good days, there are the milestones: the joy in his face after receiving news that the latest scan indicated no more cancer, when you learn that cancer did not rob him of his chance to be a father and you are expecting, when the scans continue to come back cancer free year after year.
And then all of a sudden the storm is over, and he is healthy. He is okay. But you, how are you? Did you get the chance to process everything and handle it, or are you a holy mess? It is okay to not be okay. Maybe it has been days, months, or even years since the diagnosis and you are still trying to figure out how to adjust to this post-cancer life – there is no timeline for coping. Cut yourself some slack.
And while every cancer experience is different, take comfort in the fact that there are more resources out there than you can imagine for patients, survivors and caregivers. You are not alone – there are other people out there that just get it. Reach out, seek help, and talk to someone. In the trenches of caregiving, do not forget to take care of yourself. Get a pedicure, drink wine on a Tuesday, go for a hike – do you. You cannot pour from an empty cup. When doubt creeps in on the bad days and you question if you are doing enough to support and comfort him, just remember one thing, there is no manual for caregiving and you are doing a good job.
Jenna was a Testicular cancer caregiver for her husband, Cory, in 2016. She is an advocate and mentor for caregivers and is a moderator for the Ladies of Testicular Cancer Foundation Facebook page. Jenna resides in Asheville, NC with her husband and dog, Louie, and works for the Guardian ad Litem program.