Mike Sangster in March 2016. Photo courtesy of J. Lauren Sangster

It came as a huge shock to me when we first learned that my husband, Mike, had cancer. Mike was far less shocked. With a knot growing just under his jawline for over three months, he’d known something was wrong.

I never noticed the change because since moving to Maine, Mike had taken to growing his beard in the winter months and shaving it off when the weather turned warm. Mike didn’t shave his beard the summer of 2016. I didn’t think anything about it.

Mike was diagnosed with cancer early November 2016. It was then I learned he’d been quietly receiving tests a few weeks before. He later explained how afraid he was when he realized something was wrong. I knew Mike hated going to the doctor. A lot of people do. I couldn’t know until he was diagnosed just how afraid Mike was, to think he might have cancer but then hide and ignore the growing mass for as long as possible rather than face reality and deal with it.

Mike passed away from complications due to treatment for throat cancer just over two years after being diagnosed. His particular type of cancer has a 90 percent cure rate. It was brutal to learn that the chance for Mike’s survival was far less because he waited to see a doctor.

Mike and I had to work toward true emotional growth to forgive. Mike had to forgive himself for not overcoming his fear to seek help sooner. I had to forgive Mike for the same thing. For a while I felt betrayed that Mike didn’t feel he could communicate his fear to me. Hurt. I struggled to understand why he didn’t do all he could to ensure our life together would continue. My thoughts felt horrible.

Our relationship changed over those two years. We became gentler with ourselves, and each other. We talked about our new fears. We found strengths we didn’t know we had. We grew to love each other in a new way. We viewed life through new eyes.

I recently found a small lump during my routine breast self-exam. My logical mind said it was something I should call my doctor about just to be sure it’s nothing. My fearful mind said a few things. For roughly two weeks I switched between call/I’m being silly/I don’t want to know/call/I’m being silly/I don’t want to know, until I realized two things: 1) I would not feel peace until I phoned for an appointment, and 2) I understood a small fraction of the fear Mike endured knowing something was definitely wrong with his health. My empathy toward Mike grew stronger.

I finally made the call. I next contacted my friend Suzanne because I knew she would understand my fear and my emotional reaction to it. I needed a hug. We met and talked. I received my hug. Suzanne offered to accompany me to the appointment the next morning because “no one should go through this alone.” I accepted her kind and welcomed suggestion.

My doctor told me she didn’t feel “anything horrible.” She thought the lump was most likely a cyst and was not cancerous. She ordered a mammogram “just to be sure,” but I think mostly to put my mind at complete rest. My diagnostic testing was free and clear!

My hope is that anyone who reads this will see a doctor right away if something doesn’t feel right health-wise. At the least it could provide peace of mind. Or, it could save a life.