The Fallible Caregiver Series: You’re In the Ring Too
Last updated: September 2022
I like to think of myself as a manly man. When we moved to Oregon last year, I applied for jobs at a couple of companies. I didn’t get the jobs. Like most of us, I don’t like rejection, but I found immense comfort when my wife said, “You’re probably too manly for what they’re looking for. I think a woman would fit better in those positions.” While I didn’t win the jobs, she helped me feel like I still won. I love that she thinks of me like that.
Not a sports guy
However, one struggle that follows me since my teens is that I’m not a sports guy. All my guy friends are sports guys. Most guys are sports guys. At awkward events, like weddings or parties, I’m always the lone guy who not only cares nothing for football or basketball, but I also know next to nothing about them. This is not for lack of trying, though.
I remember as a teenager, trying to get excited about such sports, watching super bowls, collecting baseball cards, and searching for a team I could sink my heart into. Nothing. I faked it but never made it. Sorry guys, I just find it boring.
My sports always had wheels. I skateboarded, rollerbladed, and did BMX racing. But my true love was motocross. I raced competitively every weekend for about seven years until I broke my femur and wrist. A year later, I broke my hip. At 19 years old, I sold my bike and truck, bought a computer, and went to graphic design school.
I’m 44 now. Aside from motocross, the only other sport that ignites my soul is the UFC, or mixed martial arts fighting in the ring. I never did the sport myself (probably God’s wisdom there), but I love watching two highly trained gladiators going head-to-head.
Having a team
But these professional fighters never get to that ring (or octagon) alone. Like professional boxers, they all have a team behind them: coaches, trainers, dieticians, sparring partners, etc. When you watch these fights, you can always see these people with them, but outside the ring. They're outside the ring, screaming and yelling to their fighter what to do, what to watch out for, and what not to do.
It would be weird—and wrong—for those behind-the-scenes teammates to be inside the ring, all fighting against the other opponent. That’s just not how it works.
Yet when your spouse has cancer, and particularly an advanced cancer diagnosis, something unexpected happens, something I didn’t see coming. For the first couple of years, I only saw myself as one of those coaches outside the ring, encouraging her to stand back up, lift her fists, and fight forward.
But then I started noticing something. While my wife got cut, bruised, and beaten up from the fight, I saw blood on myself. Yet it wasn’t her blood. I was bleeding too. I felt bruises and cuts too. What? As she got hit, I seemed to get hit too.
Not just a coach
Then I realized it.
I’m in the ring with her.
I got thrust in the ring the moment we heard those words from her oncologist: I’m sorry, but you have stage 4 breast cancer, but I didn’t see myself like that then. I saw myself outside the ring, more or less as a coach. This is happening to her. I feel dread for her. This will change everything for her. But I was wrong. I didn’t understand. I didn’t know.
This is happening to us.
This dread is affecting us.
This will change everything for us.
Cancer invaded our lives.
Not the lead fighter
I don’t have cancer, let alone incurable cancer.
She takes the full-frontal force of each hit and then I get hit with the lesser reverberations. Even my ability to empathize feels weak, if not pathetic because I just don’t know what she’s carrying. But that’s not my point in this article.
My point here is that we caregivers are still in the ring too and we often get the crap kicked out of us too. We too are inside that blasted ring, not clean spectators on the outside.
I see us as in the ring in at least two ways.
The two shall become one
I take the view that marriage is something special, something sacred, something designed by God. God says, “the two shall become one.” What happens if you glue two pieces of plywood together and then try to rip them apart? It’s never a clean break. There’s fracturing, ripping, splintering, and destruction. When my first wife divorced me, and even though I didn’t like her (ha), it still wrecked me for several years.
Married now a second time, I am re-glued to another soul. We are one. When she gets hit, I get hit too. When she suffers, I suffer too. When part of her dies… part of me dies, too.
My dad died several years ago from stage 4 stomach cancer. Rather than hiring caregivers, my sister and I chose to care for him until the end. In those last two weeks, I fed him, gave him his meds, helped him in the bathroom, and finally changed his diapers. It was tragic, but I felt weirdly honored to do that for such a good man who cared for me my whole life.
But I wasn’t married to my dad. I didn’t share life, share a heart, or share a bed with him. I didn’t share dreams with him. My life wasn’t tied and twisted up with him. That’s for my wife. While I adored my dad, we lived in separate containers. Rebekah and I are two liquids poured into one glass.
New stressors and temptations
Caring for someone with advanced cancer brings a whole new host of stressors and temptations. Fear. Anger. Depression. Loneliness. Guilt. Exhaustion. These are all common feelings I experience now. They are not like before though, before cancer. They feel deeper, stronger, and more malignant.
These all lead to temptations to want to escape and find relief. For some, it might look like spending money, smoking, angry attitudes, disengagement, a bar, an affair, or a divorce. The temptation for me is drinking. It’s a quick fix that works… temporarily, of course. That’s the demon I fight.
In your corner
One major way I fight back—and find hope—is in writing. My book, In Your Corner, goes much deeper into all these feelings, stressors, and temptations as a caregiver.
What I am after in life, however, is hope. I want to learn to not only help her fight but learn to fight myself too. I want to learn how to stand strong and fight forward with joy. That goal is what I attempt in this book.
A final fun note. If you would like to see this cancer caregiver fight played out in an actual boxing ring, we filmed a trailer for the book. I have a friend who’s a martial arts instructor and he has a friend who owns a boxing gym. This other friend let us use his entire gym (for free) for a day. He even “loaned” us one of his 300-pound fighters for the video!
Are you checking off any bucket list items this summer?
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