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In It Together – A Partner’s View on Breast Cancer

Updated: Sep 11, 2019

Every good road trip starts with hot coffee and a proper apple fritter. In the case of a first date road trip, flowers are needed as well. So, properly equipped, I started out on the 3-hour trip up the coast to meet someone who E-Harmony claimed would be perfect for me (Spoiler alert: nailed it!).

The little red schoolhouse

Melissa and I had spent a lot of time getting to know each other first online and then on the phone. Now this date would be our first face-to-face meeting.

Waze delivered me to her door right on time, which I found out later, scored me some brownie points. Her little red house was in a quiet little neighborhood and used to be a schoolhouse. It had a Dutch door. The top half was open so as I walked up, I could see her as she got up and turned towards me.

She was smiling…and in that moment, a warm, inner-smile-kind-of-feeling came over me. I’ve told her many times about this moment.

Things were going well. Until…

Jump forward four years. Melissa and I are married, she has moved to my small town and we have our first grandchild. Things are going well.

I’m sitting on the couch, probably watching one of those shows about which she always says, “Do we have to watch this?”

(“Diners, Drive-in’s and Dives” is great TV and I’m not sure how she doesn’t see that…) Anyway, she doesn’t ask her usual, “Do we have to watch this?” question. She just sits down beside me and says, “I have a lump on my breast.”

I am stunned. Everything on my mind is instantly erased. She takes my hand and places it on her breast so that I can feel for myself and there was no mistaking the hardness of the tumor.

A few of our favorite things

I am instantly reminded of how when we first met and were at the talking on the phone stage (before meeting for the first time). She’d think up a question or two for the night and we’d both answer it (or them). One night she asked what was my best body part. I think I might’ve said my legs were, since I was playing basketball 4-5 days a week at the time.

Melissa had replied that she thought her best feature was…her perky breasts! Now, if you’ve ever watched the old cartoons where the zoot suited wolf’s eyes bug out when the beautiful woman appears, then you kind of get what my reaction was!  She loved her boobs and a good part of her wardrobe was built around them.

Needless to say I was a fan as well. But now, here we are with this new development.

She can’t leave me now that I’ve found her!

And in this moment I’m sitting on the couch stunned. A million thoughts and emotions flood through me…starting with, “She can’t leave me now that I’ve found her!” I lost my Dad to cancer a couple of years ago, so this is all too real for me.

Melissa’s daughter’s wedding was coming up that same month so Melissa tells me she wants to concentrate on that and then seek treatment. I agree but as busy as the month gets, it is never far from our minds.

I’m not idle during this time. The “Magic Eight Ball” is queried more than a few times as to whether it was a cancer or not. It always answers that it is the case.

I’ve been in technical fields my whole life so my mind immediately tries to seek a solution to whatever problem arises. Sometimes there are problems that you can’t resolve but based on theory, you think you have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. It’s kind of frustrating that you really can’t prove it. But that frustration is a pebble in the ocean compared to finding out that your wife has cancer and there’s zero you can do besides be by her side.

And when my mind takes a break from worrying about her it goes into problem solving mode and, unfortunately, into all the “what if’s.” You know, the…

“What if things go bad?”

Melissa has always wanted to donate her body to the Stanford Medical School but they’ll only pick up the body within 150 miles of the school and Arroyo Grande is too far. Her family lives close enough but how would that work?

I have to continue to work but I have to be with her.

How am I going to pay all the medical bills plus the regular monthly bills on just one income?

The mind doesn’t rest much in situations like this.

The surgeon’s office, O Magazine, and Melissa’s decision

With the wedding behind us, it’s time to find out what it actually is. Once started, the process of finding out if the lump is cancer moves quickly. We soon find ourselves in the office of the surgeon who will be treating her.

Melissa had read an article in Oprah Magazine that really made a huge impact on her choice of treatment and how she wanted to handle her illness. So she knows what she wants. The doctor talks about a surgery that would save the breast. To be honest, I too think that a lumpectomy might be best but she isn’t having it.

“Take my boob and the cancer with it!” Melissa tells him. And she never looks back. She has dealt with it with flare, with humor, with tears. But most of all…

Her positive outlook has been a key factor in how I/we dealt with it. There was very little doom and gloom and lots more of, “Let’s get through this and move on!”

Do I miss her boob?

Do I miss her boob? Hmm…I’m not sure that I do. She’s always carried a certain confidence about her and losing a boob hadn’t changed that at all. While she thought her boobs were her best feature, truth be told, it’s her confidence that I find sexiest.

Soon after her mastectomy, my lovely, lively, living Melissa asks me if I am a boob guy. And while sure, I love boobs as much as any guy (or wolf), my answer is honest and still stands.

I tell my beautiful, single-breasted wife, “Any man who limits himself to just boobs is an idiot!”

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