He found me weeping bitterly in the hospital room. “What’s wrong?” Richard asked, knowing that we both had reason to cry. In the past forty-eight hours, I learned that I had a cancerous lump in my breast that had spread to my lymph node, and there was a possible spot on my brain.
I was thirty-two year old and the mother of three young children. Richard pulled me tight and tried to comfort me. Our friends and family had been amazed at the peace that had overwhelmed us. Jesus was our Savior and comfort before I found out I had cancer, and He remained the same after my diagnosis. But it seemed to Richard that the terrifying reality of my situation had finally crashed in on me in the few moments he was out of the room.
As he held me tight, Richard tried to comfort me. “It’s all been too much, hasn’t it Suz?” he said.
“That’s not it,” I cried and held up the hand mirror I had just found in the drawer. Richard looked purled.
“I didn’t know it would be like this;” I cried, as I stared in shock at my reflection in the mirror. I didn’t recognize myself. I was horribly swollen. After the surgery. I had groaned as I lay asleep and well-meaning friends had freely pushed the self-dispensing medication to ease what they thought was pain. Unfortunately I was allergic to morphine and had swelled like a sausage. Betadine from the surgery stained my neck, shoulder and chest and it was too soon for a bath. A tube hung out of my side draining the fluid from the surgical site. My left shoulder and chest were wrapped tightly in gauze where I had lost a portion of my breast. My long, curly hair was matted into one big wad. More than one hundred people had come to see me over the past forty-eight hours, and they had all seen the brown-and-white, swollen, makeup-less, gray-gowned woman who used to be me. Where had I gone?
Richard laid me back on the pillow and left the room. Within moments he came back, his arms laden with small bottles of shampoo and conditioner that he confiscated from the cart in the hall. He pulled pillows out of the closet and dragged a chair over to the sink. Unraveling my IV, he tucked the long tube from my side in his shirt pocket. Then he reached down, picked me up and carried me—IV stand and all—over to the chair. He sat me down gently on his lap, cradled my head in his arms over the sink and began to run warm water through my hair. He poured the bottles over my hair, washing and conditioning my long curls. He wrapped my hair in a towel and carried me, the tube, and the IV stand back over to the bed. He did this so gently that not one stitch was disturbed.
My husband, who had never blow-dried his hair in his life, took out a blow dryer and dried my hair, the whole while entertaining me as he pretended to give beauty tips. He then proceeded, based on the experience of watching me for the past twelve years, to fix my hair. I laughed as he bit his lip, more serious than any beauty school student. He bathed my shoulder and neck with a warm washcloth, careful to not disturb the area around the surgery, and rubbed lotion into my skin. Then he opened my makeup bag and began to apply makeup. I will never forget our laughter as he tried to apply my mascara and blush. I opened my eyes wide and held my breath as he brushed the mascara on my lashes with shaking hands. He rubbed my cheeks with tissue to blend in the blush. With the last touch, he held up two lipsticks. “Which one? Berry mauve or muted wine?” he asked. He applied the lipstick like an artist padding on a canvas and then held the little mirror in front of me.
I was human again. A little swollen, but I smelled clean, my hair hung softly over my shoulders and I recognized myself.
“What do you think?” he asked. I began to cry again, this time because I was grateful. “No, baby. You’ll mess up my makeup job,” he said and I burst into laughter.
During that difficult time in our lives, I was given only a 40 percent chance of survival over five years. That was seven years ago. I made it through those years with laughter, God’s comfort and the help of my wonderful husband. We will celebrate our nineteenth anniversary this year, and our children are now in their teens. Richard understood what must have seemed like vanity and silliness in the midst of tragedy. Everything I had ever taken for granted had been shaken in those hours—the fact that I would watch my children grow, my health, my future. With one small act of kindness, Richard gave me normalcy. I will always see that moment as one of the most loving gestures of our marriage.
Share this story for other couples going through a similar experience and I’d like to tell them that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.