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Staring Down Cancer

Facing a New Obstacle Together

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Noreen asked me to write again because she is in a great deal of pain which is generated by the side effects of a new chemo drug called Afinitor. It is very difficult to see my wife in this way.

She went on the drug eight days ago. Within 30 hours, her mouth filled with sores. Not the usual mouth canker sores, but huge open wounds everywhere, including her gums. Unable to eat, she has had to spend two days at UCLA with drips to resuscitate her body. Her potassium levels were almost nil. It was bad, very bad.

Here's the irony – her tumor marker levels for the cancer in her liver are down: 309 to 262.

The question is, what do we do?

Since I'm her husband and her Men for Women Now partner, I want all you guys to stick with me here while I explain my role over the last eight days.

Phase 1: Making certain I was with Noreen when the doctor informed us that her cancer returned to her liver. And what to do for a next step. The key, obviously, is to be with your loved one at this time, so I passed that one.

Phase 2: Being alone with her at home over the next 24 hours. Around midnight Noreen broke down. "I'm a dead woman. I can't go on.” I sat and listened and held her. I guess I did OK in that catagory too, but it was heart-wrenching. 

Phase 3: Beginning the new chemo. Immediately she developed awful mouth sores, but we were told they would go away. When instead they got a whole lot worse, she couldn't eat, she couldn't drink. My job was to do everything and anything she wanted, from: "I can't stand all these dirty dishes" to "I need Benedryl. Go to CVS"…at midnight. But it makes her a little less alone having me around. Did well in this phase also.

Phase 4: This is the one I botched badly. This is when she tells family and friends, and they descend, concerned and loving. What happens is, everyone chimes in with their own advice while I am relegated to the back of the room. One of my sisters-in-law suggested a second opinion, and that discussion ensued. I love this sister-in-law, but I took it upon myself to tell her not to get in the way by leaving me out of the decision-making process. She was dumbfounded and eventually angry because I would not back off. She correctly pointed out that if I have issues I need to "deal" and not attack her. "I'm scared too, Woody, and I'm not going to let you try to intimidate me.” We parted, and within five minutes I realized what a jerk I was. I was and still am afraid to lose control of Noreen's situation. So I lashed out. And for no reason at all – my sister-in-law is a lovely, smart and trustworthy person. All she wants is to help. She loves her sister.

So, Men for Women Now, read this carefully. Be forewarned: sometimes you have to step aside and let friends and family in too. It's not just about us. Damn, how did I forget that part?

I love you, Noreen.

Woody Fraser is Noreen's husband and the inspiration for Noreen’s Men for Women Now campaign.

If you are in the Los Angeles area on November 19th, you can support the Noreen Fraser Foundation while laughing your cancer off at Variety's Power of Comedy with performances by Amy Poehler, Will Ferrell, Maya Rudolph, Nick Kroll, Sarah Silverman, Ken Jeong and more. It will be a fantastic night and 100 percent of the ticket sale proceeds will benefit groundbreaking women's cancer research. For ticket information visit noreenfraserfoundation.org.

We've got some great initiatives running through the holidays. Threadless, a social t-shirt design network, has launched a challenge to see which of their talented artists can design the best shirt for our Men for Women Now initiative. The best design will be produced on tees, and a percentage of sales will benefit women's cancer research via the Noreen Fraser Foundation. Check out the submissions – or craft your own – via the Threadless site! The pink pears from Harry and David are continuing to be a big hit this year as well, with 20 percent from each sale benefiting the Foundation. Find them at www.noreenfraserfoundation.org.

You can "Like" the Noreen Fraser Foundation on Facebook by clicking here.