When his wife, Deanne, was diagnosed with breast cancer, Rich Leier pushed aside his fears, rolled up his sleeves and got ready to do whatever it took to put the disease in their past.
What was the first thing that went through your mind?
Fear about how Deanne was doing emotionally and fear about what was going to happen next.
Shortly after that, my mind went to, “Now what do we do? What are our options? Where do we go from here? How do we tell our kids?”
I don’t think that’s unique. I think anyone who’s watching somebody go through something like a cancer diagnosis just switches into gear and does what they can do to help. For me, that was trying to research our options, weigh the pros and cons, that kind of thing.
Where did you look for information?
I went to the internet. The information on the internet was the other thing I had to deal with — sorting through it all, reading it, understanding it and trying to make sure it was accurate, as well as trying not to panic about all the things you read out there.
Every person is different; one person may react totally different to treatments than another. I just tried to get as much information as I could so that when we went to follow-up appointments, we could understand what they were telling us. Having this information allowed us to ask questions of our doctors. Knowing that Deanne was probably listening for the worst, I had to make sure I was listening for everything else.
Anything you wish you’d known?
After we found out, we had appointments with all the doctors… the surgeon, radiologist, oncologist… We were looking for direction from them and we quickly realized that they couldn’t tell us “the right thing” to do all the time.
It was really tough for Deanne because she wanted all these experts to tell her what decisions to make. We came to understand that it was up to us and we had to make the choices that were right for us.
What did you do to help lift her spirits?
It was nice to get out, and just keep things as normal as possible.
After every chemo treatment, we would stop by an ice cream shop and have some ice cream, just to have some normal day-to-day stuff. I didn’t want her day to be about just going down to the hospital for a treatment and coming back home.
What was the most difficult part?
The most difficult part was seeing Deanne going through the chemo treatments and not being able to do anything to help her or comfort her other than just being by her side.
There were times where Deanne just wanted to be by herself. She would get very tired at times, and she was emotional from the chemo medications; her emotions at times were all over the board. It could be stressful.
Everybody knows someone who has been affected by cancer in one way or another, and for me just talking about it with other people helped relieve my stress.
What advice would you give other husbands or caregivers?
Make sure you go to all the appointments, take notes and ask questions.
If you have a family, talk to your children; be up front and honest with them. They too will now be a part of the “knowing someone who has been affected by cancer.” Their friends might ask questions, and if you are honest with them, they will be more comfortable talking about it.
Keep an open mind and be prepared to do some things that you might not be used to doing: the cooking, the cleaning and keeping the kids on track in school or activities.
In my mind, the most important piece of advice is just have a positive attitude.
For me, it was a no-brainer. You roll up your sleeves and get this thing taken care of.
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