The Unexpected Side Effects of Cancer for the Patient’s Wife and Kids

I thought June 20, 2013 was the worst day of my life after the doctors told me my husband had colon cancer, whilst I held our seven-month pregnant belly to comfort my breaking heart. Just a few months later, I was certain August 14, 2013 took the cake, as they told me the cancer was classified as Stage IV and had already spread to his liver. The doctor said any treatment from here on out would only prolong life–there was no cure. But, October 26, 2014 proved to truly be the most unimaginable, destructive day of my life. My husband, my hero, took his last breath, laying in my arms.


Joe having chemo, while our son sleeps next to him in a pallet of blankets, in the doctor’s office.

For sixteen months, doctors told me what to expect. They informed me of the side-effects of the multitude of surgeries. They prefaced the chemo–every different regimen, mixture, and hypothetical consequence of it. The skin rash was normal, it meant the chemo was working. The vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite–again, “normal,” since putting poison in your body to save your life, is normal, also. Hair loss, weight loss, just ‘loss’ was expected in the fight against cancer. The pain, they said, was normal for cancer patients, as was the never ending anxiousness, and never fully healed abdominal wound from the total colectomy. The oncologist even explained the severe depression for my mentally-tough husband was normal; after all, his entire life had been turned upside down. His life, our life, had been turned into something we hadn’t planned or imagined. Pain medication, appetite stimulants, anti-depressants, and anti-nausea and anti-diarrhea medications were prescribed, in hopes they would lull the side-effects.


Post-Surgery from a total colectomy.ย 

No one told me the side-effects of cancer on my husband’s wife, or children though. No one talked about the severe depression that sits in when all control is taken away from your spouse, as they watch you suffer. No one told her what to do when her husband’s son asks for his daddy to “come down” and play with him, but tells his mommy that his daddy can’t hear him, all the way up in Heaven. No one tells that widow what to do when the house needs repairs, who to call, or the know-how to do it herself. No one told his best friend if it was okay to still be crawled up into a ball in her closet floor, two-and-a-half years later, silently crying to herself so their son wouldn’t see her again. There was no medical professional to tell his son’s mother if it was okay to be angry at him on the really hard days, after he was gone, because she was here to do life without him. No doctor prescribed medication for all the sleepless nights of insomnia that shook her soul. And no doctor had medicine to fix her broken heart. No doctor could tell her how his children would handle the grief differently, or what book to read to know how to handle each way. The doctors and nurses didn’t tell that widow what to expect on birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays. The medical team didn’t preface what normal was after cancer left a family, one less.

The side-effects of cancer are ones I never thought of in the storm we trudged through. I never thought to ask what was normal after the chemotherapy appointments were over, and the surgeries were done. I didn’t want to know, or expect to know, there were so many consequences left over after cancer ravaged his body. That’s cancer’s power though, it takes over so many lives, than just the patients. Doctors could not possibly foresee all of the side-effects.

I’d like to think I’ve experienced every last side-effect of cancer: depression, anxiety, insomnia, anger, uncontrollable sobbing, unexpected lumps to swallow in my throat to avoid the tears again. I’d like to think I knew exactly when it would hit, when grief is slowly creeping up, and when it will just take a bite out of me. I never do though. Side-effects of cancer keep coming. Forever. I can foresee the long-term effects of our son not having his dad teach him to ride his bike, or work on his first truck with him. I know the side-effect of cancer will make itself appear when his girl walks down the aisle. I am certain I will not be able to wash away the tears when our son advances through the stages of life, growing into the man his daddy wanted him to be. I don’t have a crystal ball though. I cannot see when the side-effects will make themselves more evident, and the days they fade a little more distant. Until then, I’m going to keep fighting cancer, and all of its side-effects.


Fighting with FightCRC in Washington, DC.

Cancer Side-Effects Suck,






  1. Well written and spot on. The before, during and after, all of it. The stuff they tell us, and the stuff they don’t. (and I wonder if they don’t because they don’t know, either?)
    My husband passed from colon cancer in Sept 2015. You go, girl.


    • I think you are right, Jackie! There’s really no way of knowing what all the side-effects are, or when to expect them. They are just “there.” I hate all of them. Someone once told me the most profound thing, though. I try to keep it at the front of my mind when I’m hurting the most. “It hurts this bad, because you loved each other that much.” To stop and think of the heaviness of that comment–I would never trade an ounce of how much we loved each other, just for an ounce less of pain. NEVER.

      I hate you are in this club of losing a husband to colon cancer. It’s not fair. Thank you for reaching out though–it makes me feel much less isolated and alone in this world! Much love to you today and every day!


  2. Kristina- I met you briefly at Call On Congress in March. Your are an inspiration to everyone’s caretaker, and me, as a mom of 4 and cancer survivor. Wished we could’ve chatted more. Next time. Sending you and your children love, light and healing.
    Shannon from NJ xoxo


    • Shannon, so great to hear from you! Yes, I certainly wished we could have talked more, as well. Thank you for the kind comments–it seems so strange, as I feel all of us just rise to the occasion and take care of those we love! Thanks for the love, light and healing–it is certainly needed today!! Much love to you!!


  3. Only took me a week this time to read this. I have all of this now, it’s been a while since Johns diagnosis and it doesn’t seem to get much better. The terror I felt from that very first phone call still exists, but we do not talk about any of it. If my armor cracks, John will think I have given up hope. And it helps to fuel the urgency of looking for one more trial – because that one could be the one that saves his life. Sending our love. And hope for some sun in MO. Angie #FUCancer

    Liked by 1 person

    • Angie, some times just knowing you are not the only one out there handling the situation they way you are, helps to know you aren’t alone (or crazy, or any other word you want to describe yourself). The urgency certainly does fuel the fire! You are INCREDIBLE! #FUCacncer. Love you both!


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