Bruce Parker, a resident of Woburn and husband to Linda Parker, Miss Pink Warrior 2014, recently wrote this for Miss Pink Pageant, a local non-profit organization that supports families who have been impacted by breast cancer. Their mission is to support basic medical needs, raise awareness, educate and promote healthy lifestyles, but most of all, teach women that true beauty is based on their courage and hope to fight. For more information, www.misspinkpageant.com.
Well…you always knew you were the husband and the dad. You probably took it for granted, if you are anything like me. Just rolling along in life. Doing the daily ‘thing’. But now all of sudden, after hearing of your wife’s diagnosis, HUSBAND and FATHER all takes on a new and renewed meaning! You and your loved ones, and most importantly, your wife, need you to be that person now more than ever.
So…now you’re thrown into this crazy world of cancer. Bottom line…cancer sucks!
How you as a man approach it, and support your family during this time of your lives, is essential. Essential for your wife’s recovery and for your family’s wellbeing. The fabric of your family DOES NOT need to be ripped apart by this disease.
I am going to assume you are and have been the support your wife needs before, during, and after surgery. You have been wonderful lifting your wife up during this miserable life event. But how have you done as your children’s Dad?
Hopefully as wonderfully…but just in case you’re wavering on that question…read on.
Here are my “top 10” pieces of DAD advice for coping and dealing with your children and your wife’s battle with breast cancer. Make sure Mom is involved with all of this even though she may not be at the top of her game right now.
1. Just be there! Your physical presence is so important as you all go through this. Forget that weekly basketball league you’re in. Go shoot hoops with your kids instead. Forget the extra 2 hours of overtime you can put in to help get the project at work done. Help your child do their school project instead. You get the idea. Don’t you? Sometimes nothing needs to be said at all. Just the silence together – snuggling, holding hands, a quick kiss on the forehead – speaks a thousand words.
2. Just do it! The laundry which had always been neatly folded and tucked away is suddenly climbing the walls! And you have no clean underwear! Your daughter needs her black leggings for dance this afternoon and they are at the bottom of the basket! Jump in and get the laundry done – separate the whites and the colors though!! What about those dishes in the sink? Get the kids to help put them in the dishwasher or dry them once you’ve hand washed them!
3. Just turn to a higher power! Whatever faith (or non!) you believe in, let that provide you with strength for your soul. I personally believe God oversees everything we are going through – good and bad – and will guide us through this rough time. Take the kids to Sunday school, go for a walk and picnic in the woods and commune with nature (don’t forget the tick repellant – we don’t need to visit any more doctors!), or just take time to sit and hold your kids in your arms. Pray or find time to just be quiet – yes – with your kids!!
4. Just cherish every moment! They all suddenly seem important. Correct? Isn’t that how it should be every day anyway?
5. Just let others help! Some of you may think you can do it all! That’s great! But quite unrealistic. Do as much as you can. But, remember you need time to crash, too!
My family and I were blessed by people at our church who set up “Take Them a Meal” twice a week for several weeks. That so helped with meals! Also, our older daughters and my wife’s sisters insisted in taking my wife to some chemo treatments and hung out with her while there. It’s a terrible reason to have to bond, but a wonderful way for them to say how much they, too, cared and loved her and wanted to help be part of the healing process. It helped me so much to have them help. How about you let your 4 year old help fold the laundry. You know how it is likely to get folded…but who cares! Washcloths are washcloths!! Let them bring Mommy a popsicle. Let them bring you a popsicle if they offer!!
6. Just be honest! This one is a tough one. I have a now 14 year old daughter (was 12 at the time of the start of all of this) and two older 28 and 31 year daughters. Through this entire ordeal, we kept it as real as possible. We didn’t lie about anything or any prognosis or procedure that was going to happen. We did not always tell everything that was going on, but when asked, we told the truth. Some of your kids will be old enough to understand. Include them in conversations. For the younger kids, just let them know what may happen to Mommy as time goes on…she may lie down a lot because she’s tired and can’t play like she used to for a while, Mom may wear a hat because her hair is going to fall out, Daddy’s going to cook because Mommy has to rest. Find a positive or something funny in there somehow... …”Let’s you and Dad have a tea party”…”Let’s go look for a pretty hat for Mommy”…”Sorry Daddy burned the chicken nuggets and french fries! How about a pizza instead?!”
7. Just make it “another normal day”! Keep the routine as routine as possible! YOU may now have to do the things your wife did while you were normally working – drop your daughter at day care in the morning, pick your son up from baseball practice. Make sure there is a decent meal on the table for all. If your wife is not a great cook, you may already have this duty (sorry ladies!) Maybe you have now just become a master chef! I’d say use the grill!!! But remember to pull the meat out of the fridge in the morning or it won’t be defrosted! Get the kids in the tub and clothes ready for the next day! Then read a book and off to bed! Now go hang with your wife, she needs you!
8. Just be the support they need you to be! Even after a miserable day of work, even after the dog got into the trash and dragged it through the house, even after you forgot to defrost the meat this morning (!)…you have to be the tower of strength for all! You can rest later (think how your wife feels with all the chemicals she has running through her body)! Listen to what your family is really saying to you. Listen for the good things. Praise and recognize them! “I got my report card today! I got all A’s and 2 B’s!” That to me is something to really recognize – especially after all they too are going through. If the report card is not so wonderful, just take a deep breath and work on how to help them make it better tomorrow. Don’t beat em up. Again, remember they are going through this with you and you know how hard this can be.
9. Just don’t whine and be wimpy! Don’t be overbearing and grumpy because you’re tired and stressed. These are big ones my wife always reminds me about! Nobody needs to be any of these ways – especially now – especially to your wife and your children. Positive in, positive out. Have a friend or family member you can confide in. If you don’t have one, ask at the hospital for a list of male support groups dealing with this same issue. My Dad always used the phrase “Buck Up!”
10. Just be patient! Our kids will always push our buttons! They will always push, push, and push even when they become 28 and 31! They didn’t need Mom to get cancer to do that!! But…now, more than ever, they need you to not flip out or bark a command every two minutes. Take time to listen. Wasn’t it Thomas Jefferson who said, “when angry count to ten, if very angry count to 100”? 50 usually works well!! Again, they’re in this with you and their feelings and anger and patience are being tested, too.
These are things that seem so second nature to me now. It is a blur what I knew before all this started and what I learned along the way. It embarrasses me to say that my wife had to get cancer to make me much more aware of all these important things.
Turn off the TV, put your phone down, stay off the internet – especially WebMD – you’ll think you have everything – plus, they use big words I don’t understand! That’s what real doctors are for! Listen to inspirational music and surround yourself with positive people.
And last, but not least, make sure you take time to just be a family and feel the love.