Ian and Anna

Being a father of two and husband to a wife with metastatic breast cancer

When I was in my early twenties, being married, owning a house, and having kids wasn’t even on my radar. Then, in a short few years, I found a partner; we moved in together, bought a house, got a dog,  were married and had two healthy kids.  My son Elliott was born in 2009 and my daughter Maelle in 2012.  By the summer of 2012, at 33 years old, I was a father, husband and had a great career.  I was really happy.

Unfortunately, something else happened in the summer of 2012. My wife Anna was diagnosed with metastatic high grade triple negative breast cancer.  Our world shook.  Nothing can prepare anyone for sitting in a room with your spouse and hearing the words: “You have metastatic cancer.  It has spread to your lungs.”  I don’t recall crying since I was a teenager.  There was nothing I could do; I broke down and cried.  At that moment the life and trajectory I had envisioned did not just hit a speed bump but catastrophic derailment.

In the matter of seconds my brain kicked into high gear.   I had so many questions and so much to process.  I was wondering if Anna would see another birthday or see the children reach kindergarten.  Does this mean I am going to be a widow?  How and what do you tell your children about cancer? How do I tell my family, friends, and work colleagues?  How do I manage?

It has been almost 24-months since Anna was diagnosed.  Most of my immediate fears and concerns have been resolved, either by action or acceptance.  I have learned  a lot about myself as a husband, father, and friend.  I have learned that in situations like mine, perfection is impossible and preparation doesn’t matter.  It’s all about living in 2-3 month increments, which are generally defined by CT scans.  Some scans are better than others, but we always keep moving forward regardless of result.  This is a hard way to live.

There are some incredible support groups out there.  Most of the spouses I have been able to connect with, who share a partner with metastatic cancer, are in a much different phase of their life.  Most are retired. They’ve already had the opportunity to have prosperous careers, family vacations, and some even have grandchildren.  They are wise and offer great insight in to life, but can’t relate to dealing with a partner who is facing cancer at such an early age.  After searching for additional support groups of spouses in my situation and realizing that these types of groups are few and far between, I leaned on my family and friends.

My close friends and work colleagues should get together and write a book on how to support someone in my situation.  They have been incredible.  There isn’t a day that goes by that I am not thankful for how they have all become my crutch.  It’s not about what they say or even necessarily what they do.  It has been about their presence and patience.  They listen to me and give me room when times are tough.   Being available has been invaluable.

My parents and immediate family, predictably, have been my base camp.  They have driven to Toronto more in the last two years than I think they had in the previous ten.  They have spent weeks living with us during the really tough chemo sessions, which have been many.  Without them I could not have juggled all the commitments that come with a busy career, parenting  two small children and helping my wife treat and manage metastatic breast cancer.

From a support perspective, my friends, family, and work colleagues are the best.  From a strength perspective my wife is my go to.  I have been able to build my strength watching her deal with cancer.  At one of the support groups, someone made a comment about relationships and what metastatic cancer does to relationships when dealing with the prognosis; essentially, all that is good and bad is magnified.  For this, I am thankful I married the right person; even more, I’m thankful she married me.  With all she is going through  – the chemotherapy, the reality of her diagnosis,  the personal goals and career she has had to sacrifice – she remains a model mother, wife, and friend.

Right now Anna is in a good place.  She is able to balance treatment with good quality of life.  There have been fewer trips to Princess Margaret, even fewer trips to the emergency room, and easier conversations with her oncologist.  I am thankful that on this Father’s Day my wife is with me so I can spoil her.  Spoil my wife for everything she has done for me, in our home with the family we created.

I love you dearly Anna.

– Ian

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