With a scant week left before my wife starts her cancer treatments, I am struggling mentally to prepare. I feel like if it was something like a pregnancy, I know how to prepare. Not only now, but previously. I didn’t entirely know what to expect for her delivery any more than she did, or how it would go, but I had some inklings before we started. Completely wrong, of course, with the full C-section, code blue for Jacob, procedures just after he was born, NICU, etc. But it was somehow knowable.
And, while it was obviously HER that was going through the delivery, my role was relatively clear. I was her coach. Supportive, hold her hand, coach her through, present. To help her through the process. We use euphemisms like “we are pregnant”, but it would obviously be her, and her body, with me along. But that type of role is relatively positive and the hopeful outcome both expected and known.
For cancer treatment, my role on that day is not the same. I’m not her coach, “Come on, you can do it, let that drug drip into you” isn’t exactly a rallying cry. Being present is not nothing, but well, most of what I will do is no different from anything else in our life. It’s just, well, marriage. For better or worse. To be on the journey together, as we have been since we first got together. But there’s nothing “unique” in that sense for my role. I’ll be there, by her side, where I’m supposed to be. Not for duty, just because I want to be with her and she wants me there.
Yet it is unlike anything else. I could argue it is like being a boxing coach, sending her into the ring. Jab, jab, bob and weave. Hit that cancer cell, knock them back, clench, get to the corners, get out of the corners. Ding! And we wait 26 days to do round 2. It’s a metaphor that some people like online, and it has no resonance for me.
In fact, most of the ideas and descriptions I see online don’t really resonate much with me at all. Partly because they are often around more aggressive (?) forms of treatment involving surgery to cut cancer out of the body. That’s not the way this cancer works, so perhaps that’s why the metaphors don’t seem to work for me.
The closest metaphor I can find is one of war. She’s definitely going to battle, entering into the field of combat. And she will fight, in many ways, alone. Her body, her resolve, her decision, her treatment. I can provide some logistics and moral support, but it is her fight. I can’t fight cancer for her, I can’t plan battle strategies, I am for the most part alongside her for the fight. A ghostly apparition that can do little to influence the outcome itself.
The best I can think of, so far, is that I am her personal Battle Buddy. I can help her maintain her perspective, help try to keep her morale up, handle some basic logistics, and on good days, perhaps help with her mental health and restore a bit of her soul. I feel more like a chaplain alongside soldiers than even a field medic or battle support. The US military had a Battle Buddy program for those who were traumatized by war, and who could link up with a mentor or spirit guide equivalent to help them find their way back to some semblance of peace post-combat. Other groups have used the equivalent of Battle Buddies as people willing to listen, to support without judgement, to encourage without browbeating or overwhelming people. To help them deal with things the way they want to deal with them.
I don’t know if it’s the right metaphor, but it’s the only one I have seen so far that made much sense to me. I’m not her coach or cheerleader, I’m not simply logistics support or sidekick. I’ll be her Battle Buddy through the war. It seems woefully inadequate while she literally fights for her life.