Joe’s prospects were grim. The cancer had recurred. The new chemo would be unlikely to produce a long remission, and the side effects would be severe.

He would not be able to work to support his wife and daughter. Because of a complication of the chemotherapy, he would not be able to have more children. Survival for Joe could be less than a year.

Throughout my delivery of this painful litany of woe, I was directing all my attention toward Joe. As he looked down shaking his head in distress, his wife, Mary, looked at me with tears filling her eyes and mouthed: “What about me?”

I acutely realized I had failed to consider what Mary would also experience as her husband went through another course of chemotherapy.

Seeking help on how to address the suffering of a spouse, I searched the Book of Job in the Old Testament. There, the oldest book of the Bible is a tome of 42 chapters devoted to the suffering of a prominent individual called the “greatest man among all the peoples of the East” (Job 1:3).

In a story taking place 4,000 years ago, Job lost all his livestock totaling thousands of sheep, camels, oxen and donkeys that produced his income. Then his many servants were killed by marauders, and his children by a storm. Finally, Job developed loathsome, painful sores all over his body, leaving him only able to sit among ashes.

What about Job’s wife? Despite 1,060 verses devoted to Job’s ordeal, there are only two verses devoted to his wife. Expressing her anger over the hopelessness of her husband’s condition, his wife intoned to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die.” Job replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 3:9-10).

Except for his wife’s poignant comment and Job’s stinging reprimand, there is no other mention of Job’s wife. Do we need a Book of Mrs. Job to reveal how she coped with Job’s disastrous circumstances?

As Job lay unable to work, how was Mrs. Job paying the bills? In addition, she had to take care of the home, and faced a future possibly without her mate, losing companionship and affection. Job’s wife was also now childless.

Wasn’t Mrs. Job suffering, too? Was Mrs. Job similarly forgotten like Mary, the wife of my patient? Shouldn’t more than 1 percent of time be dedicated to the spouse of the suffering person?

As Job was suffering with physical, financial and emotional issues, so was Joe, my patient, with his modern-day problems. Like Job’s wife, Mary questioned the reasons for her husband’s ailment, what he would be able to do at home, how she would support their home and child, and what would be the future without him.

Does the Book of Job have relevance to the family of ancient days and the sufferer and family of today?

The Book of Job teaches us to persevere through painful experiences, although we may not always know the cause or reason, with deliberate trust in God, knowing He is ultimately in control of all that happens to us and “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28).

These principles of suffering will yield stability and comfort to anyone in the midst of any terrible situation.

Even without a Book of Mrs. Job, the principles of Job apply today to Joe’s wife, Mary, and their daughter. No one has to say “What about me?” to God. The truths of God’s comfort resound throughout Scripture for all of us in times of distress: “God is our refuge and strength, our ever-present help in trouble” (Psalms 46:1).

 

Delvyn C. Case Jr. is a practicing hematologist/oncologist with the Maine Center for Cancer Medicine and Blood Disorders.