Friday, May 13, 2011

The Men I Hope I'm Raising

I have a patient in the clinic right now that is only 33 and is fighting her 2nd round of metastatic disease related to a gosh awful syndrome that effects her family tree. The syndrome places her at high risk for developing soft tissue cancers and so this young woman has experienced a lot of illness and grief in a short life, watching multiple family members fight and die miserable cancer related deaths.

She never planned to marry. She was pragmatic about it and figured, it simply wasn't fair to anyone to put them through all of that misery when in all likelihood she would die and leave them alone again anyway. So she made a life and career for herself and she did some online dating with no intentions of tying the knot.

Enter Mr. Wonderful. He is the same age as her, fell deeply, madly in love with her, and asked her to marry him for five years. She finally relented, they married and three months later she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Because of her genetic stew the cancers she is prone to are not "polite, sorry to interrupt your life, there is a little spot on your breast" cancers. No, there is nothing polite, tidy, or forgiving about her cancers. They roar into a body that was healthy one day, and riddled with disease the next. In fact she was treated for and in remission from breast cancer in January of this year and six weeks later she had a new metastatic pancreatic tumor.

I met her the very first day she came for treatment in March for this new virulent cancer that was already causing pain along her spinal column and painting spots on her liver. Tearful, frightened, overwhelmed. She looked at me grief-stricken and said, "Is there really any chance this is gonna work?"

I offered her reassurance, a chaplain visit, other nurses visited, her doctor visited. But more than all of that her husband sat beside her and whispered in her ear tenderly, "I'm right here baby, right here."

There are moments as a nurse that simply take your breath away. Too private for you to be privy to and yet you are there and part of the inner sanctum of marriages and families. I try to be what my patients need me to be on any given day: funny, thoughful, prayerful, quiet, listening, distracting. With every visit what they may need from me is different and just as I take their vital signs I also take a reading of their emotions and figure out how to navigate as their nurse in that moment.

In the months since her treatment began I have come to know them well and she has struggled. Her treatments have made her physically and emotionally ill but she has made a turn towards a little respite and I am grateful that she and her Mr. Wonderful will be able to spend a week at the beach pretending to be thirtysomethings in love and not squezzing in romance between chemo appointments.

What continues to stop me in my tracks every time I see them though isn't her resolve or charm, it's her husband. He is easygoing, devoted, and passionately in love with his wife. He loves her bald, pudgy from steroids, tearful, drunk on sedatives. He loves her with the level of commitment that most marriages need years to develop. I care for older patients and see the wisdom of 40 years of peaks and valleys in the way they battle cancer-but in younger patients I never see that, I see impatience and hurried hopefulness usually as a mask for terror.

I've never seen a man who loves his wife the way Mr. Wonderful does-never. I know my darling loves me and will be with me through thick and thin. Thankfully he hasn't had the opportunity to stand by me through this kind of crisis. I know a lot of devoted husbands and I know they will step up to the plate and be the partner their wife needs and deserves if they are needed.

But Mr. Wonderful is different-he is a tangible example to me that hope remains for a generation of young men that the media considers less concerned with the real world and more interested in technology, less concerned with personal relationships than personal status. He's the kind of man I hope I'm raising.

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