My Wife’s Attitude Toward Cancer: ‘Why Not Me?’

A man who lost his wife to cancer explains the positive attitude she had during treatment and how she came to reach acceptance of her prognosis.

Why not me?”

My wife brought this subject up as part of a conversation we had after church one day. At the time she was somewhere in the middle of her surgeries and treatments for metastasized melanoma. With my wife, the question of “Why me?” was never a consideration. She stated that she was no more and no less worthy of immunity to illness and tragedy than anyone else.

I suppose it falls back to the popularized quote “There, but for the Grace of God, go I.” Sometimes bad things happen to good people. There is no explanation as to why. Life isn’t about what happens to you but more about how you deal with it, or in some cases, how you try to ignore it. Accepting a situation is the first step to dealing with it. Trying to find reason or some way to find blame in many cases will hamper the ability to accept what has happened and slow a response that can be needed sooner rather than later.

This “why not me” attitude was her mindset from the start, and by default both mine and the team of doctors as well. Her leadership in this situation made all the difference in how all of us tolerated what was happening. The nature of late-stage melanoma treatment at the time (2005-2007) was not very optimistic. Knowing and accepting this was key. Questioning and researching was truly part of the treatment. When each new treatment began, we were always prepared for possible failure and already studying the next possible option available. Our doctor at the time said not to worry about anything more than surviving the next few months because at that time researchers were coming up with new treatment opportunities on a regular basis – this was the time when immunotherapy treatments were first coming to large trials and creating availability.

In 2015, the movie version of “The Martian” starring Matt Damon hit theaters. His character’s story of survival by solving each problem as it came exemplified this concept. After an initial shock with each incident came a calm, “OK, what can I do to fix it” attitude. A statement made to the class at the end of the movie perfectly describes my wife’s, and our, attitude towards her treatments.

Mark Watney:
“At some point, everything's gonna go south on you... everything's going to go south and you're going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That's all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem... and you solve the next one... and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home. Alright, questions?”

I would say that this is the attitude you can learn from my wife, and I would recommend it for anyone facing an illness, cancer or otherwise. Always look forward, assess what might, and probably will, go wrong and have the next step or two waiting in the wings. Never give up hope. “If you solve all the problems you get to go home.”

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