Ian and Anna
Ian and Anna
Ian and Anna young
Ian and Anna

When I was in my early twenties, being married, owning a house, and having kids wasn’t even on my radar. Then, in a short few years, I found a partner; we moved in together, bought a house, got a dog,  were married and had two healthy kids.  My son Elliott was born in 2009 and my daughter Maelle in 2012.  By the summer of 2012, at 33 years old, I was a father, husband and had a great career.  I was really happy.

Unfortunately, something else happened in the summer of 2012. My wife Anna was diagnosed with metastatic high grade triple negative breast cancer.  Our world shook.  Nothing can prepare anyone for sitting in a room with your spouse and hearing the words: “You have metastatic cancer.  It has spread to your lungs.”  I don’t recall crying since I was a teenager.  There was nothing I could do; I broke down and cried.  At that moment the life and trajectory I had envisioned did not just hit a speed bump but catastrophic derailment.

Eliotte and Maelle stairs
Maelle and Eliott

In the matter of seconds my brain kicked into high gear.   I had so many questions and so much to process.  I was wondering if Anna would see another birthday or see the children reach kindergarten.  Does this mean I am going to be a widow?  How and what do you tell your children about cancer? How do I tell my family, friends, and work colleagues?  How do I manage?

It has been almost 24-months since Anna was diagnosed.  Most of my immediate fears and concerns have been resolved, either by action or acceptance.  I have learned  a lot about myself as a husband, father, and friend.  I have learned that in situations like mine, perfection is impossible and preparation doesn’t matter.  It’s all about living in 2-3 month increments, which are generally defined by CT scans.  Some scans are better than others, but we always keep moving forwardregardless of result.  This is a hard way to live.

There are some incredible support groups out there.  Most of the spouses I have been able to connect with, who share a partner with metastatic cancer, are in a much different phase of their life.  Most are retired. They’ve already had the opportunity to have prosperous careers, family vacations, and some even have grandchildren.  They are wise and offer great insight in to life, but can’t relate to dealing with a partner who is facing cancer at such an early age.  After searching for additional support groups of spouses in my situation and realizing that these types of groups are few and far between, I leaned on my family and friends.

Anna and kids Disneyland
Anna with Eliott and Maelle

My close friends and work colleagues should get together and write a book on how to support someone in my situation.  They have been incredible.  There isn’t a day that goes by that I am not thankful for how they have all become my crutch.  It’s not about what they say or even necessarily what they do.  It has been about their presence and patience.  They listen to me and give me room when times are tough.   Being available has been invaluable.

My parents and immediate family, predictably, have been my base camp.  They have driven to Toronto more in the last two years than I think they had in the previous ten.  They have spent weeks living with us during the really tough chemo sessions, which have been many.  Without them I could not have juggled all the commitments that come with a busy career, parenting  two small children and helping my wife treat and manage metastatic  breast cancer.

From a support perspective, my friends, family, and work colleagues are the best.  From a strength perspective my wife is my go to.  I have been able to build my strength watching her deal with cancer.  At one of the support groups, someone made a comment about relationships and what metastatic cancer does to relationships when dealing with the prognosis; essentially, all that is good and bad is magnified.  For this, I am thankful I married the right person; even more, I’m thankful she married me.  With all she is going through  – the chemotherapy, the reality of her diagnosis,  the personal goals and career she has had to sacrifice – she remains a model mother, wife, and friend.

Right now Anna is in a good place.  She is able to balance treatment with good quality of life.  There have been fewer trips to Princess Margaret, even fewer trips to the emergency room, and easier conversations with her oncologist.  I am thankful that on this Father’s Day my wife is with me so I can spoil her.  Spoil my wife for everything she has done for me, in our home with the family we created.

I love you dearly Anna.

– Ian

14 COMMENTS

  1. Beautiful post Ian. As a mommy of two with mets it’s nice to hear about how other daddies are navigating this journey too. Sending good energy to you all.

    • Since our daughter is sick too, but with Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension, also a progressive disease, it is very moving to read your beautiful letter to Anna from a husband and father’s view. You are both strong and brave – it takes a very special person to be this. Our prayers are with you

  2. What a heart-breaking story yet the words you use are beautiful. Although we can only offer support via prayers we wish you, Anna, your children and your wonderful parents Dennis and Megan strength, peace and happiness in the journey ahead.

  3. These are beautiful words. I am also metastatic, with 2 beautiful children. I worry about them the most, but they also give me the strength to go on.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

  4. Ian & Anna,
    Here’s a line from a favourite old song: “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right”. It seems you’ve already discovered that even in the hardest of times there can be that shining light to carry you through.
    With love,
    Jon & Diane Z.

  5. Thank you for posting this. I too am a father caring for a wife that has been fighting mets for 2.5 years. We have three little boys and are also in our 30’s. I relate to what you wrote on so many levels. It is reassuring that other fathers are out there staying strong and supporting their families. Again, thank you for sharing.

    • Ryan. Thanks for taking the time to write. You can track me down on Facebook ian Ricci twitter @ian_ricci or look for me on linked in. We should connect.

  6. Are there support groups out there for men like you and my husband? He will be 30 this year. Our boys are 3 and 7 and I am stage4 TNBC. What are some good books or websites he can check out? Sorry we just found out and he is falling apart.

    • Look up the blog under mundane faithfulness. I don’t think you can find anything more relatable. God bless you and your family.

    • Jenny. I am so sorry. This is the same diagnosis as my wife Anna. TNBC. Please have your husband reach out to me. I don’t have many books to offer but can listen pretty well and also direct him to the resources I have found. You can track me down on twitter @ian_ricci or search for me on Facebook. My profile picture is my two kids with fake moustaches, use Ian Ricci.

  7. Ian,

    Thanks you so much for sharing your journey! I too am a young mother (35) living with metastatic breast cancer while trying to raise my 5 year old little boy, William, with my wonderfully supportive husband, Carter (39). When my cancer journey began 4 years ago I couldn’t find a single person going through the same or a similar diagnosis at my age. Please consider contacting those of us who have chimed in who are going through such similar challenges. I would love to talk to your wife, Anna, and offer my support to you both. My husband could use someone to talk to who can relate to his situation if you’re interested. I know he feels alone sometimes because we know no one going through what we’re going through. We’ve tried support groups, but much like you we usually find a room full of retired folks. I will keep your family in my thoughts and send love & light to you all!

    Virginia in Colorado
    Grmyrick@aol.com

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