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Cancer Survivorship: a spouse’s perspective — ‘Why Not You?’

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — They told him on his birthday. A day he loved to celebrate. We have many happy pictures of those birthdays. A month in, exhausted after the simple act of showering, he flopped on the bed and asked, ‘Why is this happening to us?’

Without thinking I responded, ‘Why not us? 1 in 3 people in a room will be diagnosed with cancer. Thank God it wasn’t one of the kids.’ After that day he never, ever, questioned his circumstances again.

Cancer is THE most devastating disease. Not because there is no possibility of a cure — there are many, many types of treatments. Not because it is fatal — there are many survivors and the numbers are growing every day.

It is devastating because cancer is unique to the person and herein lays the problem.

There are no ‘protocols’ — no standard treatments.

What we learned is that when a cancer patient shows up the first step is trying to figure out the variables: what it is, where is it, how fast is it growing, what are the biomarkers, etcetera.

The response to a diagnosis is unique to the patient. It is not like diabetes. It is not like heart disease. There are no pre-emptive steps forward. When you show up to the doctor’s office – and who knows what type of doctor you’ll end up in front of here or off-island — they are at as much of a loss as you are.

They may know WHAT you have, but it will take a lot of time and research on their part to know what to do next. And this is where the quality of the healthcare you access upon leaving American Samoa is critical. 

Side note: You need to be aggressive; you need to fight for your patient.

I am a cancer survivor. I survived my husband, but there were two instances when I possibly would not have. That is life. A cancer survivor is a person who was/ is intimately involved with a person who fought or is fighting cancer: family members, friends, doctors and nurses who cared for that person in the most critical moments of their life. 

We never, ever, thought that cancer would take him away. As much as I’ve written about cancer, as much as we’ve advocated for cancer care and patients . . . it never entered our minds. That is life.

I am a cancer survivor. Every day I see my husband, a strong and charismatic man, still carrying himself with a straight back as he struggled to walk a few yards. I remember him being embarrassed, not being able to eat, fighting to maintain his composure. I remember the dark, dark, unpleasant and scary moments. As if they were today. On second thought, I may be just a cancer patient’s spouse. I haven’t fully survived yet. 

For all of you out there who have experienced cancer, or taking care of a loved one with cancer, please share your story. Inspire others to share.

Cancer is a terrible, terrible disease to watch a loved one experience. I see him every day going through those terrible minutes … hours, days. You are not alone caregivers. I see you survivors.

One in three adults will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime – Never think ‘never’.