He stepped close. I gazed at the mirror image of us as he rocked me gently. I felt my robe untie, and cold air blew on my vulnerable body. Tubes with drains made their appearance. He opened the containers, emptied the fluid and tucked them neatly back in place. He kissed my forehead, pulled the stray strand of hair from my eyes and said softly, “It’s ok”.
I could feel the bandage that had once wrapped me tight become undone. Pieces of gauze fluttered to the floor and then, I was exposed. I looked away. He looked at me and then whispered in my ear, “You…are…b e a u t i f u l”.
I saw the damage; it was just as I expected. I stood, semi-lifeless and my husband, the love of my life, the man I was afraid, would be afraid of me, reached for the cream, the bandages and cleanser. He tenderly cleaned the area that used to be a breast. He then covered the wound, took the wrap, wound me tight, fastened the pins, put my robe on and held me.
I will never know how he really felt that day. Knowing my husband, he left the room, cried in a quiet place and mourned what he wanted and what he missed. Knowing my husband, he cried for me, not for him. I knew he cried that day, and not in front of me. He knew, that day, we had to cry alone.
When people get diagnosed with an illness like cancer, the effects of the illness on loved ones becomes paramount. It just happens. As a wife and mother, I was more concerned about my husband and children and how they would feel. I was afraid of losing the ability to nurture my babies. I was afraid of how my husband would feel with a sick and breast-less woman by his side. The cancer would change me. The cancer would change my children. The cancer would change the relationship I had with the man I loved.
I always felt I was more important to my children than their father. I carried them, labored them, and birthed them into this world. I fed them, woke with them, soothed them, and sacrificed a much-desired career because I wanted to be home with my children.
What I realized that day was my husband, the father of my children, had more to give us then I ever allowed him the opportunity to give. When I had cancer, I did not nurture my children, the way they were accustomed. My husband had the opportunity to step up and into a bigger role as a father. My children lost a part of me but gained so much from him. They adjusted to the change in me and embraced the change in their dad. They became better for it. My husband did not have the wife he married; I was not the woman he was accustomed. He embraced the change in his wife; I embraced the change in myself. We both became better for it.
That day, my husband was a gift to me, but that day he gave my children the greatest gift. He loved compassionately; he cared gently and deeply; he was there, for their mother.