“That’s Eva Grayzel!” Rachel declared to her husband Tim. She gave me a big hug and told me I was her hero since she was a survivor of mouth cancer. I had no idea she followed all my posts online. Meeting Rachel and Tim has likewise changed my life. We were both speakers at the Gloucestershire Independent Dentist Conference and met in person at the evening dinner before the conference day. What was so unique about Rachel’s presentation was that her husband introduced her. He added an element to the survivor experience that most spouses would have a hard time confessing. I was touched deeply and got permission to share his introduction.
“I am a Firefighter by profession. People say that Firefighters save lives, and they are brave. But I didn’t feel very brave when I got the dreaded phone call from my wife that August afternoon five years ago when she said, “I’ve got Cancer. Goodbye.” In those few seconds, my life fell apart. I would be left bringing up our five small children single-handed. Firefighters find people at a low point in their lives, and make it better.
But this, I couldn’t fix. I didn’t know how or where to start to make it better for Rachel. So, I did what I knew how to do. Be strong. Be a man. Be the Firefighter. I clicked into work mode – tried to rationalize, prioritize, and treat life like an incident. But things weren’t normal – nor would they ever be again.
In the months following Rachel’s operation, I held things together – looking after Rachel, our children, work, and normality. But we didn’t talk about how we felt. We avoided our emotions for 3 months until our world began spinning out of control. Rachel thought I didn’t care.
I practically had a breakdown at which point a doctor ordered time alone, just the two of us. We shared feelings. Our commitment to each other and our love was renewed. We began the process of rebuilding the life that had been shattered by cancer.
Now, 5 years later, life is so much richer than before: our love is deeper, we cherish time with family, and we seize each day given to us. Today, life is good – and tomorrow is another day.
I admit, we will forever live in the shadow of cancer; every pain, ulcer, or fatigue will bring worry and fear. But, humor keeps us from dwelling on the fear. We still laugh about my fainting when they took the dressing off Rachel’s arm in hospital – I continue to endure the ribbing from the nurses about being the Firefighter that they saved!!!
It’s perceived that firefighters are all brave lifesavers. In this case, the lifesavers are all of you: the surgeons, doctors, dentists, and staff. You save lives through your work and are truly there for people in their darkest hours. And to those who survived mouth cancer, and bear their scars with courage and fortitude and dignity – you are the bravest of the brave.
And so, with that, I would like to hand you over to my own particular hero – my wife, Rachel Parsons.”
Did you shed a tear? Did your heart ache with joy, pride? Mind did!