Foreword: Though this post is written from a Christian husband’s perspective, it is my hope to encourage husbands and fathers to be more open in sharing, regardless of faith or religion, so we can better support our spouses in whatever difficult circumstances we may find ourselves thrown in.
“Husbands, love your wife…” Ephesians 5:25 (NIV)
“I’m sorry…I think I’m going too fast.” He paused and shifted his glance downwards. The doctor’s pause broke my long uninterrupted stare as he revealed to my wife that she has Cancer (specifically, Endometrial Cancer). Before that, I had no idea how long I was staring at him watching him mouth the dreaded diagnosis and the subsequent treatments that were to follow.
As I abruptly shifted my gaze away from him, I glanced at my wife. She had started sobbing and I had not even noticed though she was seated next to me – my mind had gone into epileptic shock – part disbelief, part denial.
Although we had been pre-empted from Angie’s biopsy, really, nothing sinks in like the real thing. For me, it sank in hard as my Dad died from Cancer when I was barely 13, so I had experienced first-hand how crushing such a diagnosis can be…and now my wife, too has been diagnosed with the same illness that ripped apart my family thirty years ago.
Immediately, in fact automatically, I went into a protocol that I’m all too familiar with that harked back to the days when we were going through multiple child-losses – shutting away all my feelings and focusing on how to move-on, how to protect and care for my wife. It’s that same sickening feeling of helplessness, that same feeling when fate has dealt us another blow, except this time, we have two young children in the equation. My mind was switching between thoughts of my wife to my kids. How are we going to break this news to them? How are we going to help my wife fight this Cancer together?
“Let’s not rob the kids the joys of celebrating Chinese New Year…”
My wife has incredible strength and resolve. One that has pulled her through years of heartache when we were trying to conceive and one that has seen her through our multiple child-losses. Her inner strength is one that I can never fathom.
After a quiet, uneasy lunch where she updated her immediate family members and some close friends over whatsapp about her diagnosis, she agreed on an impromptu visit to Chinatown with the kids – an annual tradition we started from the time we were married 19 years ago. This time it’s for more than just soaking in the CNY mood or purchasing CNY décor. It was to establish a sense of normalcy while we were still trying to gather our thoughts.
But that didn’t stop our 10-year-old daughter from popping the question in the car ride.
“How was your visit to the doctor, Mummy? What did the doctor say?”
I was dumbfounded, not quite prepared for her to be asking this so soon and choosing instead to concentrate on negotiating the peak-hour traffic. The wife surprised me, yet again.
“Doctor says Mummy has Cancer but don’t have to worry Ok? Mummy is going to get treatment and will get better….”
It’s probably the daughter’s first time hearing the name of that dreaded C and I’m not sure if she has any idea what it is but she was distracted by the lights and street décor as we neared Chinatown. We ended up having a pleasant evening, enjoyed a simple Chicken Rice dinner, bought our 4-year-old son a mini lion dance puppet plus some CNY décor for the daughter to help prep the home for CNY in the coming days.
Disclosing Cancer to children is hard…and this is only the start of answering many questions that are to come…
This I had not expect, neither did my wife. En-route to Chinatown with two lively kids jaunting in the backseat oblivious to the their parents’ inner turmoil, my wife informed me of a certain Christian acquaintance who got wind of her condition and started to text her.
In her text, this fellow ‘Christian’ acquaintance claimed that God has given her ‘visions’ that my wife’s life was ‘misaligned’, that she was “covetous”, “materialistic” and “proud”. She also warned my wife that she better repent before worse things befall our family…I was absolutely flabbergasted!
“Who is she?” “Do you know her well?” “Why is she saying these things now?” Were the questions I shot at my wife in utter disbelief!
I was boiling mad. Not only did this person hardly know us personally but she has chosen to take advantage of my wife’s vulnerable state to cast stones by implying that this illness is God’s ‘punishment’ to her with nary an encouragement. How dare she!
I am no biblical scholar but suddenly the words of Christ describing the Pharisees like a ‘brood of vipers’ sprang to mind (Matt. 23:33-NIV). We are all sinners, saved by God’s grace, there is nothing we can do or need to do to gain ’favour’ with God except to acknowledge what His son, Jesus Christ has done to atone for our sins. Perhaps this acquaintance should read beyond her John 3:16 to the next verse, John3:17 to get her basic theology right. Indeed, it is through our weaknesses (and sinfulness) that we boast of His grace and power, which is made perfect in. (2 Cr. 12:9).
In times like these, please do not be self-righteous and confine God to your own interpretation to speak on His behalf. You are not doing the couple any good in this time when they need comfort and assurance most. In fact, you may not be doing yourself any good either as Job’s good friends had found out. It is with this very verse that I told Angie to warn her that unless she stops, she may invoke God’s anger to “burn” against her (Job 42:7).
Distraction or not, reality set in soon after. Particularly the next day when I accompanied my wife to her PET/CT scan. During the 2 hours when she was undergoing her scan, I felt a deep sense of disappointment in myself – I had not taken good care of my wife.
“If only I had pushed her more to go for scans more regularly”. “ If only I had nagged her more.” “ If only I had made the appointment and just dragged her there”…
Since the days of our IVF and subsequently child-losses, the thought of visiting the gynaecologist has always been unpleasant for my wife. These visits had yielded nothing but painful memories. Because of that, I did not really insist on regular visits but fact is that her PCOS condition coupled with all the drugs she had been pumped in starting a family, had made her more susceptible to contracting Endometrial Cancer. Meeting her family for lunch after the scan exacerbated my sense of shame – their love for her was so evident, so overflowing that I felt ashamed for not discharging my ‘duty’ well as a husband.
The next few nights, we tried to avoid the conversation of the impending surgery, choosing to focus on more ‘functional’ topics such as household chores and the kids’ schedules. But that did not stop my shame.
Shame evolved into anger. Not out-rightly but it was seething within. Angry at myself and at the situation, and even at God.
During the weekend before my wife’s surgery, I was on tenterhooks. The reality of my feelings had set in. Shame, anger, frustration, confusion. I tried to hide it from my wife but the kids certainly felt it. Any slight infraction or disobedience had me giving them a tongue-lashing.
Sunday at church did little help. It was the same sickening feeling when we were childless. It’s surprising how these feelings that I thought had been eradicated were in fact just buried, only to surface again at an opportune time.
However, the frustration was that this time, we HAD experienced God’s goodness through our challenges in starting a family. Now we are proud and happy parents to two lovely children whom God had blessed us with. Account of Abraham and Isaac at the altar came to mind – God wants me to return these to Him. Am I willing to return to God what He has given?
Account of Simon Peter when Christ asked him if he were to desert Christ when those around Him had done so came to mind. “Lord, whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6: 68 & 69 – NIV)
These struggles stirred within. Palpable and real. To make matters worse, there is virtually no one I can turn to who are in similar shoes, very much like during our struggles in starting a family. Every friend I know has a ‘healthy’ wife, just like how everyone we knew then had healthy babies and was fertile as bunnies. I felt excruciatingly…alone.
Towards the end of the service, an old hymn was sung. When I heard it, I recalled my late Grandmother, how she used to stand in the old village church in Setiawan, Malaysia worshipping God wholeheartedly, albeit completely out of tune and harmony accompanied by a simple organ and guitar set-up. Nothing fanciful but oh so powerful. Together with her friends, they sang their hearts out despite living through the cruelty of war, poverty and complete uncertainty of their future then. Holding on to nothing except the faith and hope they have in Christ.
This was the heritage I have come to inherit from my Grandparents and now, it seems that God was reminding me, what am I going to do with this heritage? What spiritual heritage would I leave for my kids?
He reminded me that beyond just providing love and shelter, one of the highest calling of a Christian parent is to leave a heritage of the knowledge of God and His love. For the first time in a long time, I teared as I walked to collect my car from the church parking lot, acknowledging the difficulty in taking up my cross to follow Christ but yet if we are to say that we love Him, then we have to obey and abide. Nevertheless, I still struggled, asking for this ‘cup’ to be passed from my family if this is possible.
Monday. The day before my wife was set for the Cancer surgery. On the way to work, the songs ‘In Control’ and ‘’Covered’ were playing in the car just like how it had been over the past weekend but this time, it was different. For some reason, I felt the words of the songs speaking directly to me.
I lift my hands to Heaven
Here my heart surrendered
I tell my soul again
You are Lord of all
And though the seas are raging
You will speak and tame them
In You I find my rest
You are in control
Chorus “ In Control” by Hillsong Worship
Grace, glorious grace, grace, glorious grace
At the cross You called it finished
Grace, wonderful grace, grace, wonderful grace
At the cross all of my sin is
No matter what I’ve done, no matter where I’ve been
No matter how I fall, You pick me up again
You have removed my shame, You take me as I am
You call me justified, (now I am covered by) now I am covered by Your grace
“Covered” by Planet Shakers
My wife would attest that she hasn’t seen me cry in years. But upon hearing the lyrics, the dam broke. God was assuring me that my family is totally covered by His Grace…that He is with us, even through the deep waters (Isaiah 43:2). He reminded me that through our earlier struggles and frustrations, He has proven that He is in control and He will continue to be in control. Our kids are living testaments of that. These two songs continue to be the anthems of sorts for our fight against Cancer as a family. They have helped me as the head of the household to see clearly my place in all of this and God’s place in all that we do.
At this point of writing, Angie’s fight with cancer is not quite over. We are relieved that the 6-hour surgery was successful and the doctor seemed positive but he has also cautioned that the road to full recovery is long.
For me, I continue to stand with my wife. I choose to believe that God’s mercies triumph justice. There is no time and space for blaming and shaming. The fact is that God is in control and we are all sinners saved by His grace. It is destined for us all to die one day but to leave a lasting and godly legacy – that is something I have to work towards to become a reality…It is difficult but not impossible. With God in control, may we win this battle and may our lives glorify Him.
Our Wedding Verse
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Eccl. 4:12 (NIV)
Some good articles I found on the web from fellow husbands who are caregivers for Cancer spouses:
Follow my journey on IG over at @doting_dad.