Husband's wish for Christmas: More time together

Husband's wish for Christmas: More time together

SIGNAPORE - Christmas will be bittersweet for Henry and Jess.

Dec 24 is their wedding anniversary. They have had 17 great years together. But now, one of them is fighting to stay alive.

Henry had once seen Jess as the woman he would grow old with. Grey-haired, they would take long evening strolls in the park together.

But in August last year, devastating news hit the couple and their teenage children.

Jess, 52, was diagnosed with Stage 4 nasal septum cancer.

It is a rare form of cancer which strikes the large cartilage in the nose, which separates it into two cavities - the left and right nostrils.

Doctors told the couple that an operation to remove as much cancer cells as possible in the area, accompanied by rounds of chemotherapy and radiation would give her a survival rate of 50 per cent.

Can't taste or smell

It was a step the mother of two, aged 10 and 15, was reluctant to take, since the operation would significantly alter her facial features.

But anxious for more time with her growing children, elderly parents and husband, she took the plunge in September last year.

Now, Jess wears a palatal obturator, an oral device resembling dentures which helps her breathe, eat, and enunciate.

Due to the cancer treatment, she has also lost her ability to taste and smell.

"Mealtimes used to be quite enjoyable for me, but now I find them a chore," she told The New Paper.

"I spend about half to one hour cleaning the obturator after each meal."

Hope that the operation would provide a new lease of life turned to grief when the couple found out in March this year that the cancer had spread to Jess' neck and lungs.

The cancer is now at the terminal stage, though doctors are reluctant to predict exactly how much time she has left.

But, Henry, 57, is his wife's biggest cheerleader.

"Please wait"

Despite the uncertainty about the length of her remaining days, he speaks with optimism about putting Jess in charge of his 60th birthday celebrations.

"Please wait to celebrate my 60th birthday," he said, eyes crinkling.

They are reluctant to go into details when explaining Jess' situation to their children.

"The children understand that their mother has cancer, but I think they are not aware of how serious her condition is."

Heartache and anxiety lurk beneath his cheerful and steely exterior. The burden on his shoulders is heavy, hesaid.

"I don't know when the time will come, where she has to leave. The uncertainty is something very difficult for me, as a father and husband.

"Practical errands, like making repeated trips to the hospital for checkups can get emotionally draining."

Smiling wistfully, he added: "I wish for my children to have motherly love. We have so many dreams to fulfil.

"We have dreams that Jess and I will see our children take their major exams, go to university, grow old gracefully together.

"These dreams have been shattered, unless a miracle happens. Every day we pray that God gives her more days to live..." he said before trailing off.

Dr Gilbert Fan, head of the National Cancer Centre Singapore's department of Psychosocial Oncology and deputy chairman of the centre's patient support programmes, said it can be challenging when a cancer victim is part of a married couple.

"The more enmeshed the couple - meaning that their lives are heavily intertwined, sometimes even dependant upon one another - the more challenging it can be."

Negative vibes risk

Negative vibes risk

"The partner of the cancer patient may absorb all the negative vibes and become very troubled. He may also find it difficult to let go," he said.

"He's a good husband," Jess said, with a quiet laugh.

"He has been very patient to take care of me and accompany me to the hospital all the time, and I think the whole ordeal so far has been tiring for him too."

Being the primary caregiver of a cancer patient is no easy task, said Dr Fan.

"He or she usually bears the brunt of the patient's moods, which are often lows, because of his condition.

"Sometimes, caregiving can also be taken for granted, if the patient is used to demanding for his or her way due to the constant discomfort or pain," he says.

Henry's eyes, which never left his wife as she speaks, revealed a mix of pain and quiet devotion.

"We're Christians and I made the vow before God and before our friends and family in church to never leave her in sickness and in health.

"It is one I will definitely honour," he said. "If I don't care for her, who will?"

He added that his church friends and family have been the family's biggest pillar of support.

They hope to spend a night with the kids at the Holiday Inn. Henry wants them to see where their parents got married.

But he reckons the hotel is already fully-booked by now, so he will settle for strolling down Orchard Road, decked out in shimmering lights.

It's not difficult to guess his Christmas wish.

"That my wife will get well, that she has more days to live," he says.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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