Husband, achiever, caregiver
ABOUT CHRIS, IN HIS OWN WORDS:
- I was very fortunate to meet my wife, Kaye, at a charity event on campus where we both worked. With a little effort and some Jamaican charm, she agreed to go out with me.
- In 2013, we switched to PPO insurance because we began talking about having kids. Within a month, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.
- A difficult part for us about Kaye’s diagnosis was that it affected our plans to start a family. I felt really unlucky.
- I never forget that life is still good. Kaye and I are still two parts of a whole.
I come from a family where we don’t talk about our emotions. I’m the person who stays calm and collected, and who keeps everyone else calm, too. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s actually a good thing to share how you feel.
I was raised in Kingston, Jamaica, by a single mother who always had two or three jobs. Within weeks of starting kindergarten, I noticed that I didn’t have the family structure and “stuff” that other children had. It was hard not to think, Hey! What about me? So, I became a dreamer and a planner.
I brought my dream for a better life to the United States. By the time I was 25, I had a degree in applied mathematics, was managing IT professionals, and had a middle-class life living the California dream. Through my early 30s, I started to dream about becoming a good husband and father. For me, the most important consideration in life was finding the perfect life partner who was willing to grow old with me and take care of 1.89 kids or whatever the U.S. average was at the time.
I was very fortunate to meet my wife, Kaye, at a charity event on campus where we both worked. With a little effort and some Jamaican charm, she agreed to go out with me. We got married and life was good. We traveled, purchased the house with the ocean view, drove nice cars, and progressed in our careers. Things were still going according to plan.
Since we were young and healthy, I signed us up for the cheaper HMO health insurance plan at work, but during open enrollment we switched to the PPO insurance plan because we began talking about having kids. Within a month of switching, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Disrupted By Breast Cancer
I was numb when we sat in the doctor’s office and received the initial diagnosis, but I was uninformed and had little fear. How bad could it be? I left the first appointment believing in the doctor’s plan: She could have a mastectomy, maybe do chemotherapy, get reconstruction, and we would move on with plans to start a family. I was Kaye’s shoulder to cry on, and it might seem strange, but we really didn’t talk about her diagnosis all that much. I viewed my role as the one to keep everything normal and not slack off on my responsibilities at home. By keeping things normal, I hoped I could help minimize the diagnosis. Yes, she had breast cancer. But that wasn’t going to change our lives.
Kaye wanted second and third opinions, which were easy to get since we now had the PPO insurance. I’m very glad we did because after those appointments, her diagnosis changed. She had Stage IV metastatic breast cancer that had spread beyond the lymph nodes to several spots in her bones.
Honestly, I don’t remember much of that week. In my denial, I buried myself in work and was unusually productive. To a fly on the wall, everything that week appeared normal, but inside everything was in turmoil. It wasn’t until I started researching and mapping out all of Kaye’s possible treatment options after her bilateral mastectomy that I began to feel a sense of control over the situation. If one thing didn’t work, we still had other options to try. Having that plan gave me strength and hope.
A difficult part for us about Kaye’s diagnosis was that it affected our plans to start a family. I felt really unlucky. What about my hopes for the future? What about my dream for a family? I continued to distract myself with work while we tried to keep everything as normal as possible. Part of keeping things normal was not treating her like she was sick and not talking about her cancer.
Searching For Peace
With the exception of time off after surgery, Kaye did not miss any work. We still went out to eat, spent time with friends, and lived our lives. Kaye and I are two halves of a whole: I handle the more functional, planning part of things (like the mortgage and finances) while she takes care of everything else, especially the social part. There are a lot of things I wouldn’t have done if it weren’t for Kaye. A lot of what makes life rich are the things she has brought into my life. So I’ve often wondered who is really taking care of whom.
Even though to all outward appearances our lives were normal, we didn’t have the disease under control. I felt horrible at this stage because I started getting jealous whenever I saw families with young children. I struggled internally to get over thinking, What about me?
Eventually, I realized how selfish my thoughts were, and felt incredibly guilty. It wasn’t all about me. I had found the right woman for me. I watched how she lived with her cancer: not complaining, doing everything she’s always done, still giving, and still getting excited over little things. In time, I realized there were other ways we could have children if we really wanted to. We still had options.
It helped that we had found a healthcare team we trusted. Some people feel the need to become an expert about the disease, but I didn’t. I did make sure to read the official literature that accompanies a drug or course of treatment. So, when her doctor recommended IBRANCE in combination with fulvestrant—which is approved for people diagnosed with HR+/HER2- breast cancer who have disease progression following prior hormonal therapy, just like Kaye—I read the literature and became hopeful that it might be a good treatment option for her. After talking with her doctors about the possible benefits and serious and common side effects of IBRANCE such as low white blood cell counts, infections or fatigue, Kaye decided to start taking IBRANCE. She experienced some side effects with IBRANCE, including low white blood cell counts, some hair thinning, and mouth sores. IBRANCE had been working for her, although this is just her experience and other people’s might be different. Kaye is no longer taking IBRANCE with fulvestrant and is now receiving a different treatment.
Opening Back Up To Happiness
As a person who loves to have a plan and works hard to follow it through, it’s been a struggle to accept that life won’t be following my carefully planned script. Seeing Kaye go through this process is difficult. Keeping all my emotions inside has been difficult. Not talking to others and soliciting support has been difficult. But sharing this is a good start to making it just a little bit easier. And I never forget that life is still good. Kaye and I are still two parts of a whole.
As a wise person once said, “Happiness isn’t having what you want. Happiness is wanting what you have.” And I’m happy with the family I have with Kaye.