When Theresa Williams was diagnosed with breast cancer the week of her 50th birthday, husband Mike’s initial reaction was anger.
“Of course you wonder-why her?” Mike remembers. “I was angry, how could this happen to my lovely wife, someone who eats well and takes care of herself?
But eventually I came to realize everyone in their life is going to have trials; it’s all part of the journey.”
After learning the lump Mike initially discovered in her breast was cancerous, “Mike went everywhere with me,” says Theresa. “He took me to doctor’s appointments and sat with me during my chemotherapy treatments. When I look back on it, he was amazing. He took over the housework. His sisters, both nurses, came up to help take care of me, and I had girlfriends who made me feel ‘normal’, and forced me to do ‘normal’ things – even when I didn’t feel like it.”
“How can you not be supportive?” says Mike. “Theresa didn’t go out one day and say I’m going to get breast cancer; she certainly didn’t want this to happen to her.”
For men facing a similar situation, Mike has these words of encouragement and advice:
“Be a good listener. She needs someone to talk to more than just her doctor, and she needs someone else to hear what her doctor is telling her. You may have the clearer head in all of this. It’s important to compare notes afterwards.
Compliment her – and don’t just say it, but mean it. Men are visual beings – it helps a woman to know that she is beautiful.
“This is so hard on your self image,” says Theresa. “But by treating me lovingly-normally, it was very encouraging.”
Since Theresa’s treatment and recovery, the couple have heard horror stories from breast cancer patients who have failed to get the support they need. “I just did what a husband should do, you step up to the plate when someone is down. Even today it bothers me how many women are getting breast cancer. I tell anyone who will listen how important self-examination is – it’s the key to what saved Theresa. Her cancer didn’t show up in her first mammogram, but we could feel it. When it comes up in conversation I’ll be bold and tell women to know their own bodies – catch it early and it can save you a world of pain.”
The couple’s experience showed Theresa “how important it was to have that support, but I know there are a lot of people who aren’t that lucky. That’s why I got involved with the support group Breast Friends. One of the things we do is help teach family and friends of breast cancer patients how to be supportive. Mike was such a rock. I know how hard it was for him, stepping up and doing things he never did before.”
And to this day, six years after Theresa’s diagnosis and recovery, he still helps with the laundry.