Lisa’s Story

Lisa Brandel
Bellefontaine, OH

Prostate cancer never won. I, Chemo wife.

On January 14th, I looked into my husband’s bright blue eyes and vowed, “In sickness, and in health, until death do we part.” For many women who repeat that vow, it is an abstract distant concept. For me, it was an already present, vivid reality. Just days prior to the wedding, we had our first couples visit with his oncologist, and another injection of Zoladex to shut down his testosterone in hopes it would keep his cancer in check for a little while longer.

Yes, I married a man who already had prostate cancer.

When we met, I was a woman of thirty with no desire for marriage, who could barely take care of herself, and a cat. He was a fifty five year old head strong, confirmed bachelor, in denial of his disease. Six months later we stood looking into each other’s eyes saying, “I do.”

I remember thinking, before we married, that I had a hefty learning curve ahead. I had to learn what it meant to share my life with another person. I had to learn what prostate cancer was. I had to learn that Rod did not deal with his disease.

Five months into our marriage, just as I was truly gaining the understanding that Prostate cancer was not a one size fits all disease, that it was a multi-faceted beast whose variables were near infinite. My husband’s cancer became hormone refractory, and we began our first chemo and experimental therapy at the Cleveland Clinic.

I had to learn, and become not only Rod’s wife, but also Rod’s chemo wife. I had to discover how to take care of someone with an active, aggressive cancer disease, someone who most of the time treated his disease without care.

Denial was my husband’s comfort zone. It was his way to get through the day, and the indignity of sickness. When we married, he had without my understanding it, handed prostate cancer to me asking me to take care of it from here on out. He had been dealing with the disease by himself, since 2001, and now that he had someone in his life, he felt he no longer had to.

Prostate cancer was now squarely on my shoulders. Instead of making our lives about prostate cancer, I made our lives about life, with a small side of prostate cancer. I thought, “If we were a normal newly wedded couple what would we be doing?” The answer was, “Enjoying each other, going out with friends, going to events together…Living life.”

With that in mind, at every treatment week in Cleveland, I scheduled a fun activity for my husband and I to enjoy. Instead of a burden every week, my husband focused on the fun we would have, cancer was truly secondary in our lives. He was not going to Cleveland because he was sick; he was going because we had fun plans.

Neutropenia, vomiting, hospitalizations, were all-secondary to Rod in comparison to getting to meet Gilbert Gottfried at the comedy club, seeing the Browns play, strolling through the Rock and Roll hall of fame.

Even as the cancer whittled his health and stamina away, and events gave way to special movies at home, getting to pick out books and magazines on a rare trip with me to the store, and eventually picking and sharing a popsicle, the only thing he could eat, with his wife and beloved mother-in-law, my husband was never dying of his disease. My husband lived, to his very last breath.

The last week he slept in our bed he made me promise to write our story, to show people how to live with prostate cancer. The last physical act was to pull me to him and kiss me. He and I did not lose our battle with prostate cancer. We won, even though he passed from the disease, we squeezed every drop of life possible. From “I do” until “Death we did part.” Prostate cancer never won.

Now, in fulfillment of my promise I blog the rough draft of my book, to share our victory, and to teach others how life is possible even with it seems improbable.