A Caregiver's Perspective

Couple supports each other through cancer

Her caregiver story

Carol Mulcahy herself is a breast cancer survivor. After her cancer was successfully treated, the roles reversed as she helped her husband, Mike, through his experience with prostate cancer.

Mike and I met at a party in May 1977. We got engaged over Valentine’s Day weekend the next year and were married in August 1978. After raising two children, we faced a new challenge together as cancer crept into our lives.

Ever since I turned 40, I had diligently been getting an annual mammogram. In July 2007, a troublesome mammogram led to meeting with a surgeon and having a lump removed and examined. Soon after came the diagnosis: I had breast cancer. I remember telling Mike that we were going to let God lead us through the process of having cancer. Mike was an amazing partner. He listened carefully at appointments so whenever I had questions about what was coming next, he could explain what to expect. With him by my side, I beat breast cancer.

Five years later, in May 2012, the roles reversed. Now Mike was the one with a cancer diagnosis, and this time it was prostate cancer. As Mike’s partner, I wanted to be there for him as we faced yet another turn in our lives together. We were fortunate that his diagnosis was made in late spring. I worked as an elementary school teacher, so I had a school-year schedule. Summer vacation was almost here. I would have many weeks to be available for Mike as needed. I felt very fortunate that I was able to be with Mike for every appointment. Our relationship was strong and getting stronger — strong enough to take on this diagnosis.

The first step was to follow Mike’s lead as he began researching prostate cancer to choose a method of treatment. Mike’s tenacity in gathering information really amazed me. He talked to other men who had faced the same diagnosis, comparing notes on both treatment options and ways to cope. One conversation would lead to another as strangers became supporters, providing both information and encouragement. I was learning along the way, too, but Mike really worked hard to educate himself.

Mike chose proton beam radiation therapy for his treatment, and we traveled to a different city for him to receive this type of treatment. We lived in a Holiday Inn Express for the entire summer. His daily radiation treatment was the focus of our day, but it left us with plenty of time to explore restaurants, museums and parks. What Mike needed most from me at this point was a companion. We had a lot of fun during those weeks and got to know people who are still dear to us today. Mike fondly remembers our time away as his “radiation vacation.”

Going out of town for Mike’s treatment physically separated us from some of the most important people in our lives during one of the most challenging times. We stayed in touch with our adult children the usual way, with phone calls, text messages and emails. I felt compelled to be sure everyone else knew we were doing well, but Mike did this himself by sending a weekly email about his treatments and our adventures.

Despite the distance, we had incredible support from our family and friends. Our daughter prepared family photos for us to take with us and set up in our hotel room. We knew that many were praying for us and for Mike’s recovery. We felt the prayers in the power of knowing that others were lifting Mike up to the Lord. That was an experience we will never forget.

We were lucky that Mike was nearly free of side effects from treatment. He never felt ill or tired, and he had no pain. Most men who have prostate cancer will deal with physical changes that affect him sexually. Each couple will need to make whatever adjustments are appropriate and comfortable for them, just as we did.

If you’re helping a husband with prostate cancer, realize that you can talk to him about his cancer over dinner, during a drive to the mall, while you’re folding laundry — really any time. Life goes on, and the needs of daily life are still there. But you should also understand that this is an extraordinary time in your lives. Listen carefully to your husband, and graciously accept the help and comfort that others offer to you.

In facing cancer for the second time, this time as a partner and caregiver, I learned this: Life brings the experiences; God brings the strength and peace to walk through those experiences; and we all learn, grow and use them to be better at caring for each other.

Click here to read Mike Mulcahy's story.