The Wife Of A Man With Metastatic Breast Cancer

By Linda Holden

Linda Holden is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area in California. She is a caregiver for her husband Bob, who was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer 12 years ago. Linda volunteers with her local humane society in their Pet Assisted Therapy program, takes her and Bob’s dog Bailey to visit patients, and is a volunteer legislative ambassador with the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.

My husband Bob was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, with metastasis to his bones in January 2003. We were dating at the time and had been for seven years. He started chemotherapy treatment. Then he had a mastectomy and radiation therapy. In July 2003, between surgery and radiation, we were married in Hawaii. At the time of Bob’s diagnosis, the statistics said he had a two- to five-year life expectancy. It was heartbreaking; he was only 43 years old.

As with any cancer diagnosis our lives were changed forever. Bob hasn’t worked since his diagnosis. He was permanently disabled due to chemotherapy-induced neuropathy in his legs and feet and has pain in his bones from the cancer metastasis. He also has some cognitive difficulties and trouble with memory. I definitely believe there is a side effect called chemo brain [1]. Since I have the memories for both of us, I try to be as patient as I can when he doesn’t understand something.

Because Bob is disabled and has memory issues, I became his caregiver.

medicine-thermometer-tablets-pills copyOne of my most important responsibilities as Bob’s caregiver is to go to every Doctor’s appointment. In the beginning his appointment with his oncologist was every month. Then it went to every two months. At one point we got to six months. Now, Bob sees his oncologist every three months. Going this often takes a toll, with the stress of never knowing what you might hear. But as Bob’s caregiver, it is vital that I know about any changes in the disease or adjustments to his treatments or medications. He takes medication for neuropathy, chronic pain, nausea; hormonal therapy to target his particular subtype of metastatic breast cancer (MBC); and medications for blood pressure and other health issues. We organize his medications by week into a pill box to make it easier for him to know what to take and when.

It’s hard for me as a caregiver and wife to watch this disease cheat my husband out of a full life. He has a great attitude. He gets up almost every day, though there are days when he needs to stay in bed. And I try to make his day as easy as I can. This is where I have a hard time finding the right balance. I know I need to let Bob do as much as he can for himself on the days he is able, but sometimes I get too comfortable doing things for him. Most, if not all, of the household chores are my responsibility. Bob does enjoy cooking though and still cooks dinner. He even does most of the grocery shopping. I think it’s important for my husband to participate in the household whenever he can. Sometimes I just need to step back and let him do it.

Over the past twelve years of Bob living with MBC, it’s been our social life that has changed the most. In the beginning we went out with friends. But it became hard. Sometimes Bob wanted to come home early. We would never know how he was going to feel. Now, mostly, if we do go out it is for lunch. It’s easier.

Being a caregiver for a man living with metastatic breast cancer is especially difficult because there is no cure for stage IV. People with MBC are in treatment for the rest of their lives. I know that someday he will probably die from this disease. I will always have hope. But I understand the prognosis.

Over The Years I’ve Learned Some Things

I really do have to take it one day at a time. In 2012, Bob had a recurrence of his cancer and he started back on treatment. He was on treatment until 2014 when he had to stop because of side effects. He is now on what they call a treatment “holiday” until he recovers and is strong enough to return to the treatment. Caregivers have to be adaptive in every situation because it changes day to day.

Having support from family, friends, and the medical community is so important to help with care. Support has ebbed and flowed at times. But when dealing with a chronic illness for over twelve years, it is hard to expect everyone to always be there. We just accept when we get support and are thankful for it.

I know how important it is for me to make time for myself and not feel guilty about it. I know if I don’t take care of myself I won’t be an effective caregiver. I enjoy walking, volunteering, taking cooking classes, anything that gives my mind and body a rest.

I research everything pertaining to breast cancer, especially MBC in men, and connect with others facing similar circumstances. I look up articles online to stay current and reach out to connect with people who have the same interest in breast cancer. Finding support from those in the same situation as Bob and me has given me the most support because they understand. Many people think Bob had treatment, so he is fine, or cured. That is so far from the truth. He will never be cured. We’ve made so many friends on the same path as us. They are invaluable for their knowledge and support.

I believe this saying to be so true: “knowledge is power”.


1 Chemo brain, or chemo fog, is associated with chemotherapy treatment. Patients may have difficulty processing information, concentrating, remembering details of recent events, confusing dates, displacing objects, or fumbling to find the right word or phrase. Symptoms generally fade following the end of chemotherapy treatment, but not always. Importantly, for some cancer patients treatment is lifelong.

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