No one ever prepares you for the moment you hear your spouse has cancer.
More so, no one prepares for you to hear this when you have a 5-month-old at home.
“Mom, they said the tumor is cancerous, and they need to enucleate his eye on Thursday,” I say quietly into the phone as I pump in a dirty bathroom stall at the eye hospital.
Whir. Whir. Whir. Whir. Gosh, I hate pumping.
Today is my first day being away from my daughter. My mom is watching her while I made the trip to the eye hospital with my husband after a mass was found in his eye during a routine eye exam, causing pressure in his left eye.
We had been through the wringer these past few months, with me getting a uterine infection after birth, my daughter being diagnosed with a cow’s milk protein allergy at six weeks, ongoing problems with her GI tract, bottle refusal, leaving my job due to struggles with postpartum anxiety, and now this.
No one prepares you for this.
Minutes before the diagnosis we had been joking around as we always do, laughing at observations we made around the hospital. We had been told it almost definitely was not cancer by the ophthalmologist who referred us here, so we were pretty calm going in. Cancer was not on either of our minds. We sat around for hours waiting to be seen, the day was long and slow but we tried to make it entertaining.
Until it wasn’t.
Suddenly, everything got fast and scary as doctors poured into our room. Our lives changed in a second as we heard the specialist say my young husband would have an unfortunate outcome. We locked eyes. All I could do was squeeze his shoulder as a feeling of helplessness washed over me.
Ocular Melanoma. No no no.
A million thoughts start to run through your mind. Questions you don’t even know how to ask.
Eye cancer? Who gets eye cancer?
The doctor explained that usually, they would try to save the eye, but the tumor had gotten too big and into too much, and they were skipping the “saving sight” phase and going straight to the “saving life” phase. She said the best course of action was to remove his left eye.
Our car ride home was sad and heavy.
But then we walked through the door and saw her smile. Saw her lack of knowledge or care for what we had just been through. She was just so happy and relieved to see Mommy and Daddy after our first day apart. That is when we realized how truly thankful we were to have an infant daughter at the time this all happened.
“Oh, that must be so hard with a baby.”
“How are you holding up with a baby at home?”
“Bet you wish this wasn’t happening when you have a baby.”
These are things I started to hear as we broke the news to people, but it was quite the opposite.
We were so thankful to have a baby at home as a distraction.
A constant unaware, cooing, little bundle of smiles. She kept our spirits up, she kept us laughing and looking forward to the future. There was no time to wallow or sink down into the million what-ifs that probably would have consumed us if we did not have her. She gives us the drive to do all that we can and tackle anything hard that comes our way so we can be present for her.
She did not notice for a second that my husband lost an eye. She did not stare or judge. She will not remember any of this. She just loved her daddy, whether he had one eye or two eyes. I have never seen anything more beautiful.
My husband now proudly wears a prosthetic eye that is matched the color of our daughter’s big blue eyes.
We have since received more hard news that my husband is at high risk for cancer being part of our future, but for now, he is in remission, the tumor is gone, and we are holding out hope that we will never have to deal with this beast again.
You never truly know how you are going to react when you hear news like this. I sure was not sure how I would react, especially dealing with my own postpartum struggles.
But having a baby at home was the biggest blessing in disguise.
I am grateful every day for our little family and the pure love and hope our daughter fills us with.
Life can be full of unexpected surprises, both good and bad. Life can also be very short, no matter how diligently you plan. My daughter is teaching me mindfulness and to be appreciative of each moment we get. Everything can change in an instant, so try to stay in the moment, enjoy your time with your family, laugh often, and realize it is okay to feel, as long as those feelings don’t consume you. It is not about never feeling bad or never feeling anything negative, it is about taking those feelings in stride and always doing what you can to not stay stuck there. Move forward, and change your perspective. Try to see your world through the eyes of a child.