It was a whirlwind few months for Tamara and Chris. In March 2018, they were celebrating getting married and being newlyweds. A couple of months later in May, they were overjoyed to learn they were expecting their first child. But while honeymooning together in June, Tamara began to feel a sharp pain in her arm. After undergoing testing, her diagnosis was confirmed: triple negative breast cancer.
Tamara was five months pregnant when she and Chris received the news she had cancer. For Chris, Tamara’s diagnosis “was a blur. My main focus was making sure my wife was ok and trying to figure out how I could be there for her. I didn’t know anyone who had gone through this before. It was a huge gut punch. I went into immediate husband mode: How can I support and help?” Because Tamara needed to focus on treatment, Chris was able to “handle everything else, non-treatment wise. I did whatever I could to aid her at the moment. And I still do to this day.”
Overnight, Chris went from being a new husband and expectant father to the caregiver of his wife with breast cancer and their unborn child.
After initial treatment, doctors determined that Tamara should be induced to give birth two months early so that she could proceed with additional chemo and surgery. After 56 hours of labor, their son Teague was born, weighing 5 pounds 1 ounce. Almost immediately, Tamara jumped back into treatment, with the new family traveling over four hours to Duke University every day for chemotherapy.
When asked what it was like to adjust to being a new father and a caregiver all at once, Chris shares: “How does anyone cope with all that we’ve been through without support? I personally owe a lot to God for him sending me such great in-laws, who have been super throughout this whole process. I believe I’m still coping to this day. I have a new definition of so many words now, such as cope, intimacy, love, covenant, reciprocity, longsuffering, and so many more.”
Chris’s lived experience as a caregiver to a partner with breast cancer has uniquely positioned him to encourage and advise other male caregivers. Chris shares that while it’s important to care for your partner with cancer, it’s also important for the caregiver to care for themselves: “Take time for yourself when you can, even if it’s five minutes. Read a devotion, do jumping jacks, go outside for some fresh air, or walk to the end of your neighborhood or community. Find something you like to do and try to do it every so often. Get a babysitter, find someone to clean the house, do the laundry, perhaps cook; if any of those things are possible, invest in them every so often to relieve the stress. At the end of the day, take it one moment at a time.”
Chris likens their experience as a young married couple to boxing. “We did not have the same beginning as other married couples. We were hit with a left, a right, an uppercut, and a body shot before we even got through the first round of marriage. We were knocked down three times in the first round. You have to decide that you’re not going to quit.”
Expanding on his role as a caretaker, Chris shares, “You don’t want to take things for granted. But we’re human, so we can get caught up in emotions. I try to think: Let me be cool. Let me figure out how I can best serve. I don’t think caretakers get asked a lot about how they’re doing. I appreciate when I’m asked, ‘How are you doing?’ because you do endure a lot. It can be very challenging, but it can also be beautiful. You can still have a beautiful marriage even though you’re on a health journey. It’s going to take time and take some digging, but don’t give up.”
Through it all, Chris and Tamara have remained committed to caring for each other, physically and emotionally. Chris says the biggest benefit of this experience has been learning to “endure to keep the family together, which I also believe can help your spouse get healthy. I believe love is a great healer, and surrounding people with love helps them get through the most difficult moments of their lives.”
Today, Tamara is still battling breast cancer—her third round in four years. When asked what is the best way someone can support a caregiver like himself, Chris says, “Give caregivers as much love and care as they are giving their spouse. Help them see their value and understand that they matter, too. Help them find a therapist, check on them, and give them hope. Every caregiver is going to be different, but every caregiver is human, and helping them feel significant is vital.”
National Breast Cancer Foundation is here for you and your loved ones. Whether you need support, education, or help during treatment, we have a team dedicated to getting you the help you deserve.
Hear more about Chris and Tamara’s story in “One Bite at a Time: Tamara’s Journey with TNBC While Pregnant.”