For Husbands Only : What They Don't Tell You the Day Your Wife is Diagnosed With Cancer

by "Gumpus61"

Well, my friend, it has happened to you. We go through life as men thinking the bad things happen to the other guy. So it is always a shock when you sit in an office and watch a tear roll down your wife’s face as she is told she has a terrible disease. 

Full Size Render

Shock is not too strong a word. I literally felt fight or flight, panic, anger, shock and bewilderment…….all at once. It must be like getting shot, suddenly you find yourself sitting there not knowing why your sitting instead of standing, wondering what the hell happened as life continues around you in slow motion.

I can say with Confidence no man enters marriage with the thought of losing his wife. We are the ones that go too fast, take too many chances, drink too much, and test limits. We see ourselves being the ones laying down at the end of life, hoping to leave security for our loved ones. In one moment in an office words are spoken and at that moment your life has changed forever. Let me repeat that. A Cancer diagnosis for your wife means life as you knew it or thought it would be has changed forever.

Our diagnosis came 33 years into what had become and still is a great marriage and partnership. 

Ann And Mitch Wedding

Ann had a wonderful career, was a mother to a great son, and our lives were very good. It was a cold October day when we heard the words “Primary Peritoneal Cancer stage 3C”, we had no real idea what that meant. The first lesson of Cancer for a caregiver is this. The Doctors will not tell you any more than they have to. They can’t say you are going to die….because you might not. That can’t say you are going to live or for how long because they don’t know. So at a time when you are craving guidance and information, it is not going to come from where you expect it. You have to start figuring things out for yourself.

So you will walk in stunned silence to the car, and that is where the tears will start. Just like the Doctor, less is more for you as your wife starts the grim process of digesting the meaning of what was said in that office. More hugs and holding than words are what she needs. So you get home and most likely both of you will start googling about your cancer. That is when I saw the words “Primary Peritoneal Cancer is uniformly fatal”. Now here is what is amazing. You will see that death sentence and all sorts of things start going through your mind that you never had to think about. But your wife will not believe those words. She will believe that she is going to beat it. Live the longest and the best and take the treatment like a pro. She has to. It’s a healthy part of denial and a wonderful human trait. You, on the other hand, have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. There are a couple of times in a marriage when a husband is best suited to sit down, shut up and just watch and listen. The week leading up to the marriage is one, the day your child is born is another, and your wife’s Cancer diagnosis is the third. Your job is just starting. Take a deep breath, because here we go.


Your job is to learn everything you can about her Cancer, treatment options, and how that is going to affect your wife. You need to learn the stages of grief. More importantly, the fact that your wife may not outlive the disease has to be your very own terrible secret. She will follow your emotional lead. She wants you to believe she is the exception, not the rule. So you have to stay positive in front of her. Friends and family will not want to hear your doubts and worries. How can you dare to think she might die? Your buddies won’t know how to act. They will say things like “I would just go off in the woods and kill myself” or “Is the treatment worth the Pain”. They don’t know what you are finding out about your wife, her will to live is strong. You learn to cry in the car when you are alone. That’s best. So you study her cancer. You need to study because you have to be her advocate with the doctor and the system. You learn that direct questions like how long will she live, or what are the odds of treatment working will not get answered. You have to give the doctors an out while you dig for some truth. Questions go like this. “While I know every cancer and patient is different, in your experience with Cancers like my wife’s what might the outcome be?” Our doctor spoke in a code that gave us little clues. After a good response to surgery and chemo, our doctor looked at us and said: “Go have a great summer”. The second round she said, “looks like you get another summer”. This time it was “with this medication you will be able to travel”. We knew what that meant.

Now, here is the really bad news. Cancer steals a woman’s sexuality. It doesn’t have to be breast or ovarian cancer to do it either. The treatment for nearly all cancer is debilitating, even brutal. Your wife just won’t believe side effects will be as bad for her. When they are she feels guilty. You’re on a very tricky ground. My wife had a hysterectomy. That alone changes the game. Nobody tells you your wife’s vagina is now a “cuff”. You will be afraid of hurting her. Her orgasm has changed. You will want to have sex but not know how to ask, or act. You will close your eyes and see her as you always did. She cannot do the same thing. Then as the days turn into weeks and months you understand what it means to not die from cancer but to live with it as a chronic disease. 

My Mom was diagnosed and died within a year. Dad went the same way. My wife and I have been living with Cancer for nearly 4 years. I can count the number of times we have made love in the last 18 months on one hand. A dear friend’s wife had a Mastectomy, it took them over a year to make love again for the first time. So you have lost your sex partner. Tragically, for many women, they just don’t think about sex anymore. Hysterectomy alone destroys many a marriage, throw in chemo and the havoc it brings to the human body and it just gets worse. You have to make hard choices, it is going to involve sacrifice. You will consider sex outside your marriage, it’s only natural. But no woman wants to be with a man in your circumstances….old girlfriends seem to be a common refuge. Eventually, you return to your teen age years and take things into your own hands………..and don’t get caught doing that either. So things go on, some things unsaid but understood between you. You’re only human when the day comes that you secretly wish it would end, and now you’re the one feeling guilty.

Ann Hospital Surgery

My friend who is living with his wife’s Cancer was bemoaning the way his wife has changed. I told him it was like waking up and finding you have married yourself. Your partner is balding, slightly overweight, crabby and tired all the time. Sounds like a lot of middle-aged men I know. Your wife is now your partner and friend. She doesn’t want it to be that way. She would do anything to go back, she can’t. If you were fortunate to have a good marriage then you know what the vows you made mean and it’s time to do your part. But not everyone can. A lot of times it will be a wife who knows all these things and simply lets you go. Other times a selfish nature or the depth of a struggle leads a husband away. There is no blame in any of this. Cancer sucks and sometimes it lasts a long time.

Most guys I talk to think of cancer and bucket lists and going out in a blaze of glory. My wife and many I have seen don’t think that way. When pressed in this terrible way many want to simply return to the things that made them comfortable all their lives. You need to be able to give them that. Your mind might be screaming “you’re dying and this is our last summer”…..but she just wants a glass of wine and a funny movie. So it becomes one day at a time. So you make the right choices, you glue on the smile, you cry in the car, and this is your life.

Ann Swimming

Ultimately many of our wives will die from this disease. You will be alone at the end of your life. But you have one last terrible chore. If you can manage it, you must be the “dignity police”, or find a family member who can do the job. When my Mother was diagnosed I knew my Father and my sister were going to struggle. I took mom aside and said. “When the time comes that you have had enough, call me and I will make it OK for them to stop so you can go home and die in peace”. It happened just like that. Having done that for her, I pray the lord gives me strength to give my wife the same grace. A husband to a wife with cancer faces a terrible test. It takes strength and will and sacrifice. If you face this journey you must know one thing……she would do this for you.

Our Guest Blog Post today is from "Gumpus61" he is the caregiver for his Wife of 37 years who is fighting Stage IIIC Primary Peritoneal Cancer. He shares their experiences of living life with cancer, knowing that it will never be cured. He shares his raw emotions and the experiences involved with caring for a terminal Spouse. Drop by his page at WhatNext Here and wish them well. 

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