Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Parenting, Breast Cancer, & Pregnancy: Advice From This Side - Part II

Last week, I posted a letter a platonic female friend (PFF), Anna, had written to me about someone she knows who is pregnant and has breast cancer. Anna asked if I could meet and talk with a man, Kevin, and his pregnant wife, Kelly. The couple, who also has a four year old, just learned that Kelly is Stage 2.

Here was my answer to Anna’s request.
Hi, Anna.
Thanks for your note. I’m flattered that you recalled those memories of our family during that time with such regard. I guess it’s really true that the way we portray ourselves, in good times and in bad, really does influence others.
Since I know you’ve read The Single Father’s Guide to Life, Cooking, and Baseball, I also know that you’re familiar with PFF’s who’ve asked me if I’d be inclined to advise their friends or relatives who are divorced or widower single fathers. In every case, I’ve said, “Yes.” To date not one of those single fathers have ever called.
“Why?”
Well, my theory is simple; men don’t ask for directions. Instead, I wrote the book and I write a blog because I believed guys would be more likely to read a manual written specifically for them.
As you can imagine, I am more than sympathetic to Kelly’s and Kevin’s circumstances. Of course, I would be willing talk with them and help in any way I can. Still, I’m not sure they’d want to talk with a stranger whose fairytale, frankly, fell somewhat short of a happy ending. That’s not to say, however, that I don’t’ think I can help.
I probably will not write a book about it, but, as a man who has an intimate knowledge a world in which his pregnant wife can have breast cancer, I think can still offer some advice. If I get the chance to talk with Kevin and Kelly, this is what I’d tell them.

Make love every day. Physical intimacy obviously won’t solve every problem, but it does make dealing with some problems a whole lot easier. A loving couple who takes the time so express their love physically to each other will not only relieve stress, which will be ample during this time, but will also serve to strengthen the bond between the two of you. The strength of that bond will be important as you deal with doctors, nurses, insurance companies, successes, disappointments, meddling relatives, and more. Both of you need that love for different reasons, but I recommend that you, husband, make it (almost) all about her.
Talk with your kids. Don’t hide the fact that mommy has cancer. A young child will not understand the gravity of a cancer diagnosis, but he or she will understand that “Mommy is sick,” or “Mommy is going to the hospital.” I recommend neither an optimistic spin nor pessimistic one. Too much optimism may create unrealistic expectations in a child’s mind. Too much pessimism may create unnecessary anxiety. As the child matures, his or her understanding of the world and the illness will grow and he or she will ask more questions. Answer with similarly age appropriate honest and direct answers.
Make the hard decisions together. It’s perfectly fine to hope for the best, but it’s also wise plan for the worst. If you don’t already have a healthcare proxy, a living will, and a last will and testament, do them immediately. Making those decisions together will give both of you the peace of mind that you’re making the right decisions for each other and for your children, regardless of current circumstances.
Surround yourselves with beauty. Make your world beautiful with fresh flowers, beautiful music, art, literature, and more. Read to each other. Listen to your favorite band or symphony. Visit the ocean. Take a walk or a drive and enjoy beautiful views or autumn colors. Do all the things that make your hearts happy. As previously mentioned, make love.
Don’t become too excited about good news or too disheartened by the bad. When it comes to cancer treatment, you’ll hear some disappointing news. That doesn’t mean you’ve lost. Other times, you’ll be elated by other news. That doesn’t mean you’ve won. It’s a long battle. If you let your emotions get the better of you, you’ll become exhausted an unable to fight when you need to. Believe you’ll win, but don’t wear your emotions on your sleeve. Be consistently optimistic.
Remove the “Net Consumers of Resources” from your lives. While you’re in the throes of your fight, the world will continue to turn. Bills will need to be paid. Meals will need to be prepared. Kids will need to go to gymnastics or football practice or whatever. As you forge ahead, you will encounter people who will be indispensable assets. Those people love you and, almost just by their presence, will magically create time and resources for you. Those people, I refer to as “Net Creators of Resources.” Others, either through ignorance or selfishness, seem to draw all the energy from the room. I call these people, “Net Consumers of Resources,” and there’s nothing like a crisis for a person to show his or her true colors. Embrace the Net Creators. Remove the Net Consumers. You’ll need all the resources you can muster.
Now, I have one more suggestion for you, and this is very important. Once you’ve put that nasty cancer into remission where it belongs, live every day of the rest of your lives together the exact same way: with love, honesty, courage, beauty, strength, and good friends.

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