From Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul

A Brief and Shining Moment

My philosophy is that not only are you responsible for your life but doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.

Oprah Winfrey

Almost eight years ago, my wife was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer, and that’s when I learned to pray. My prayers for her return to good health still persist, although the damning prophecies of medical science can’t predict just how long Lois will live.

When she asked me to start a support group for the husbands of breast cancer survivors, I was hesitant at first. I didn’t want to endure the pain all over again. But knowing the kind of pain that other husbands were going through, and the mere fact that this was what Lois wanted, I finally consented.

People often ask, “How do you do this? Doesn’t it get depressing? Some of these women aren’t going to make it.

What are you going to do or say that is going to make any difference?”

I respond with yet another question. “Would you like to endure the process of watching your wife, sister, mother or daughter battle the ravages of breast cancer all alone, with nobody to talk to, or to rely on for support?”

By running a husband’s support group for the women who have been affected by breast cancer, I have found more than I’ve lost, gained more than I’ve given and realized that hope shines in a world where hopelessness prevails.

Some years ago, Sandy, an attractive fifty-year-old woman, asked my wife if she could speak with me before the support group started. I knew both Sandy and her husband from previous encounters with the group. She looked like a model, certainly not someone that most people would think of as being a breast-cancer survivor.

Although Sandy’s treatment consisted of a mastectomy without chemotherapy, she still withstood the agonizing process of disfiguring surgery, the tribulations of hormone therapy and the reality of her own death. She was dealing with it fairly well, but I knew that Mike, her husband, wasn’t.

Sandy wanted to speak with me because she was upset with Mike. Apparently, he would come home from work and then go out for hours, without explanation. Whenever she tried to talk to him about it, he would give her the cold shoulder and walk away in silence. She worried that her husband couldn’t accept her after the disfiguring surgery, and they were drifting apart. Through grievous tears, Sandy confided, “I think he’s having an affair.”

“I’ll try to draw Mike out at the meeting tonight,” I promised, adding, “but if he does tell me anything, I’m obligated to hold it in the strictest confidence between the two of us.”

Sandy said that she understood and hoped I could help him.

That evening, I took the sparse gathering of five men to our small meeting room, while their wives were escorted by another volunteer to a separate meeting room. After the men were seated in a wide semicircle, I asked them how they were coping. Everyone was able to verbalize their feelings and talk about their situations; everyone except Mike, who remained silent.

I offered my own personal suggestions, to the group, of how I got through my wife’s illness. “There were times when I just started to cry for no apparent reason, like while I was driving to work. One time I absent-mindedly drove to The Galleria, when I had no intention of even going there. I got so wrapped up in my own thoughts of despair that I lost all sense of time.”

Listening with interest, the men eventually began telling stories of their own struggles. Some told chilling stories of how they just needed to get away from the house, and their wives, because they couldn’t deal with it. Almost everyone admitted to attacks of overwhelming sadness where they would cry alone for hours. Others spoke of crushing hopelessness that hindered them from assuming full responsibility for the household chores that their wives could no longer perform.

Mike kept his head down throughout the discussion, his hands clasped in front of him on his lap. As the discussion progressed, I directed a question at Mike. “We haven’t heard from you yet, Mike. Have you experienced any of these things we’ve been talking about?” As he looked up, we all saw the damp streaks that stained his cheeks. He quickly wiped them away, rejecting their existence. I sensed that he didn’t want to let on that he’d been crying.

Mike said, “I don’t know what else to do. I just drive around for hours.” I thought, Well, that explains why he leaves.

I wonder what else he’ll tell us?

“What do you do when you drive around, Mike?” I inquired. “Do you go out and cry, or have a beer, or do you have a special place to go and just think?”

It seemed like he wanted to answer, but something was holding him back. Finally Mike stood up and shouted, “I go out and scream. I go out in my car and scream for hours, and when I get back home I can’t talk because I’m hoarse.”

Stunned, and trying to comprehend what I had just heard, I said, “Mike, you’ll have to tell Sandy all of this. She’s worried about you. You have no idea. I mean it. When we leave here, you need to tell Sandy what you just told me.”

When both groups finished, I watched as Mike approached Sandy. He spoke to her for a few moments, and then she cried silently on his chest. I could tell Mike was moved, but somehow he remained stoic, stereotypically male to the end. I was proud of him just the same.

Sandy finally knew that it wasn’t her fault, but rather Mike’s inability to break out of that terrible, unresolved sadness and anger over her illness. It was a brief and shining moment that night as Lois, nestled against my side, and I watched Mike and Sandy walk slowly down the quiet corridor toward the parking lot, arm in arm.

Over the next several months, we saw Mike and Sandy at almost all of our support group meetings. But suddenly they stopped coming. Through mutual friends, we heard that Sandy’s cancer had metastasized to another part of her body, and she lost the battle. Mike stayed with her to the very end.

As clearly as if it were only yesterday, I can still see Sandy and Mike holding one another in that quiet hallway together. This memory sustains me, reassuring me that, in those last, precious days together, they were able to love, cherish and support one another.

George S. J. Anderson
Dedicated to Mike and Sandy Sexton

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