“How I Helped My Wife Battle Cancer – and How I Failed Her at the Same Time” originally appeared on Quora and The Fatherly Forum, and was reprinted with permission.
What ruined my marriage?
My former wife is an amazing human being. We built a successful business together when she was well, and she was amazing running it and her team. She worked hard, cooked, cleaned, and played hard when we had fun backpacking around Central America. We had just started trying to have children.
We were having a party for her team one night. Drinking, dancing on tables at a Greek restaurant, and hanging out with Kevin Nealon in Orlando after his comedy routine.
In the photos she looked really pale.
The next day she had tiny red spots (almost dots) on her legs. And she had a pain in her thigh. She stayed home. She called me at noon, crying, saying her knee hurt worse than anything she’s ever felt. We spent five hours in the emergency waiting area while she cried in agony. Three days later she was diagnosed with a rare form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the age of 30.
Her cancer had an equally rare mutation that made it almost impossible to treat. They gave her less than a 10 percent chance to live a year.
What happened then was a 2½-year series of nightmares and miracles that simply cannot be fathomed. She almost died many times. Everything she identified herself with as a beautiful and successful person was lost almost overnight.
But she was amazing through it all, her doctors and nurses fell in love with her. Our community fell in love with her — her spirit, her fight, her humor.
I slept by her side in the hospital every night for four months while trying to run her business and mine. I helped manage friends and family so that she was never alone in the hospital. I read thousands and thousands of pages about cancer and insurance. I was there to ask the doctors the tough questions.
I helped her go through IVF treatment and gave her hormone shots so we could make embryos together. I helped build a blog so she could share her story. I was there to help catalog her journey on social media through hundreds of photos.
I was there to hold her when she lost her hair. I was there to call the nurses when she was in pain. I rushed to her bedside with a pan when she was vomiting, and I helped her when both the sheets and her clothes needed changing. I gave her IV treatments in our home. I was there to help her shower, to help her walk down the hallways at night, to celebrate that she could walk more than two minutes. I was there to call 911 twice when she became unresponsive. In another emergency, I carried her frail body down our stairs and drove her to the emergency room myself.
I didn’t do this alone, not even close, we had incredible support from her mom (her primary caretaker while I worked), friends, and family.
I spent every waking minute worried about her for years. I spent hundreds of hours of my life sharing her story with friends and strangers. I was there to drive her to Virginia to see her home for what might have been the last time. I was there through her life-saving hail Mary bone marrow transplant. I financially supported us in our darkest hours.
But it wasn’t enough to save our marriage.
I came home from work one day, and she was gone. Not because of cancer, but because she didn’t want to be with me anymore.
You see, as much as I’d like to say I’m blameless and this isn’t my fault, I failed her. Hell, I was probably the biggest jerk in the world.
Here’s the other side of the coin: I was too controlling. I fought with the doctors too much and argued against some of the mood/pain meds she was taking. I limited our spending when she might be dying, I was angry and tense all the time and got upset and angry whenever she didn’t agree with me, sometimes I called her crazy, I wasn’t home enough, she had to walk on eggshells around me, she never knew if I was going to be nice or cranky when I got home from work, I sometimes used the phrase “it’s all about you isn’t it?” when we argued, and I made her life more stressful when she just wanted peace and kindness. I used the “D” word (“Fine, then divorce me if you don’t agree”) when we got in stupid fights. I was condescending, insensitive, and generally critical of her recovery efforts (“Why didn’t you go for a walk today?”). To be blunt, I was generally an unbearable asshole.
I didn’t realize how bad my behavior was until it was too late. I started going to counseling but it was too late. The damage was done.
Or maybe she left me out of kindness, maybe she used all that as an excuse to set me free from whatever dramatically changed path she is now on. I may never know.
Still, every morning I wake up, I’m immediately thankful she is alive. As I move on, alone, into the next chapter of my life, I do regret I wasn’t strong enough to be a warrior and a poet for her.
For those that have taken the time to share this story with me, the only thing that I ask is that you visit the Be the Match and learn more about how you can save a life like Michele’s. Joining the registry is free and painless.
And if you are giving birth, please ask your hospital if you can donate the cord blood. Cord blood donations literally saved Michele’s life.
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