Editor’s Note: Noreen is in Seoul, Korea, giving the keynote speech at the Global Breast Cancer Conference. Her husband is the author of this week’s column.
Our world changed forever when Noreen found a cancerous lump in her breast. We were lying in bed, and she said, “Feel this. Is this a lump?”
We both panicked – could we feel a hard cancer, or is it soft?
That was 10 years ago. Today, Noreen’s cancer has progressed to stage 4.
When she first had surgery, I realized that I was driving her crazy. Every morning when we woke up, I would turn to her and ask, “Are you OK? How are you feeling?”
After three weeks of this, Noreen answered, “If you ask me one more time – ‘how are you?’ – I think I’ll jump out the window!”
I realized at that moment how completely out of touch I was with reality. I had to find a way to share Noreen’s cancer effectively as her husband – a guy without cancer.
I was directed to the “Wellness Center,” where a group of “loved ones” – more than 30 people ranging from 17 to 70 years old – met each week. Each one of us had a loved one with cancer – mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children or significant others.
“My name is Woody, and my wife has breast cancer,” I began.
The leader asked, “Are you having any problems?”
I responded, “Yes. My wife hates me.”
Everyone laughed. Every single person in the group laughed out loud. Needless to say, I was shocked.
“What the hell is going on? Why are you laughing?” I demanded.
One woman looked right at me and said, “Get ready. You are the one person your wife can be truthful with. The one that she can unload her fears, her anger on – all of the uncertainties that will plague her from now on.”
I was shocked.
“You’re kidding,” I replied.
“No. But understand this: Don’t think it’s just your wife,” this woman said. “If the situation were reversed, you would be unloading on her. That is the reality you both are living with from this moment on. I tell you this because this is the reality of living with the shock of cancer. As her husband who shares every aspect of her life, your role is special.”
For one year, I went to the Wellness Center and learned how to cope as a husband, father and partner.
Noreen’s life has changed – it centers around one word: survival.
This survival colors each and every aspect of her life. It is filled with anger, fear, and a resolute attitude to win – to see our children graduate from college, get married, have children, have successful careers and be happy.
The doubt creeps in every day, and you – no one – can shut it out. Here I am, 20 years her senior, bouncing around happy and healthy. Who wants to see that 24/7?
One day, Noreen turned to me and asked, “Why me? Why not you?”
“I don’t know,” I responded. “I wish I did. But I would trade with you gladly.” Noreen broke down crying.
Had I not had my year with the Wellness Center, I would not have understood her fears and anger as being perfectly normal and natural. And if the situation were reversed, these words would be coming out of my mouth.
Noreen's idea for Men For Women Now came from watching me struggle as the husband of a stage 4 cancer patient. It's a great idea, namely because we guys are forgotten and left on the sidelines while our women band together and fight the problem at hand.
Who is Noreen Fraser? She is one in a million. She is a valiant and loving woman, who I am lucky enough to share every moment with. She is the mother of our children and my wife.
I love you Noreen.
Woody Fraser is the inspiration for Noreen’s Men for Women Now campaign.