Meet José G.
New to Stamford CT, husband and father of two 2 year olds at the time, José found himself running to doctor appointments, surgery consults and calling everyone in his network to help his wife who was unexpectedly diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.
Below he shares his experience as his wife's caregiver and the effects her cancer journey not only had on her but also on him and the family.
What is your relation to the Tough Cookie?
The OG Tough Cookie is my wife.
What was the first thing that came to mind when you heard them say “I have cancer”?
“I have to get back home.” We were living in CT, but I was in CA on a work trip when Marie accidentally texted me that she was diagnosed with cancer. She’d intended to text our neighbor, but I was in the thread. I was in a meeting, so I excused myself and called her immediately. I then booked the next flight home.
What has been or was the hardest part of this journey for you?
Feeling helpless when she’s in pain or stressed about something. Unfortunately, that’s often.
There’s nothing I can do to take away, even dull, the physical and emotional pain she goes through daily. It’s so tough to celebrate that she’s ‘cancer free’ when she’s reminded constantly how this disease has changed her life. From the chronic aches, and sleepless nights, to the lack of energy, and physical changes in her body … just about everything reminds her that she isn’t the same person she was before cancer. This makes her sad and I’m sure sometimes mad because these reminders are truths. I can’t change them any more than I can make it so she was never sick … in these very specific ways, I’m helpless.
How are you doing now?
I’m doing. Some days are great, and some days suck. I’m not trying to be negative, but that’s my truth.
I hate being on the sidelines more than anything and I haven’t really gotten over that helpless feeling. But I try to focus on the great days … the days the kids are listening … the mornings when Marie wakes up from a good night’s sleep … or the ‘family nights’ when we can all agree on the same movie. In the end, even the crappy days (when none of those things are happening) are blessings. Every day we are together as a family is a blessing. That’s also my truth. Though sometimes it’s difficult, I try to remember that as well.
What was the most helpful thing someone did or said to you during your journey as a caregiver?
Help with the kids.
We had two 2-year-old kids, babies really, when Marie was diagnosed. Of course, only months earlier I’d started a new job that required significant travel (remember, I found out while on a trip). Marie was very concerned about how the kids would deal with everything. Though we all agree that kids are sometimes more resilient than we give them credit for, it doesn’t change the fact that we didn’t want them to have to be resilient at that age. Also, kids are all different and they deal with/internalize things differently. We see that firsthand and we are seven years out from the diagnosis. However, without the help of our family and friends, I’m not sure how we would have gotten through the early days.
Any advice you would like to share with other caregivers?
First, find your purpose to make sure you are always moving towards it. This journey really does suck sometimes, probably more often than not, but we can’t give up. We must press forward and at times fight harder than we think is possible for our purpose. Whether it’s for someone or something, purpose has a way of inspiring drive and focus.
Also, find your support system and say “yes”. People, even your closest friends and family, will change once they know you are sick. Sadly, so many of them just won’t know how to deal with it. Be prepared for that, but don’t take it personally. There will be those who step up. Friends who fly in from another state, family who use their vacation days to drive 8 hours by themselves just to help for a week, or a complete stranger going out of their way ‘just because’. When you are offered a hand, take it. When you need a hand, ASK for it. There’s no reason to be on this journey alone.