By Kristina Smith
After my husband was diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer, had a total colectomy, then being reopened, to allow his abdominal wound to heal from the inside out, body issues were a daily struggle for him. A confident, well-built man in his thirties, he now had an abdominal opening that began under his rib cage to below his belly button. There were also issues of having to use the bathroom seven to nine times a day, the possibility of not getting to a bathroom soon enough, and of course the constant vomiting and skin rash that broke out on his face that he declared made him look like a teenage boy going through puberty. The severe dehydration caused dry, ashy skin, and being seven months pregnant draining black liquid coming out of my husband’s infected abdominal wound, didn't necessarily calm his fears of what his wife must have thought while he fought cancer. You know what he didn't know I saw though? He never saw the admiration I had for him as he fought every single battle of chemotherapy, knowing he was going to feel like crap for the next two weeks, until he went and hooked back up to it again. He never saw the deepest gratitude that he never complained and asked me if he could stop treatment altogether, because it was too hard. He never saw how much more I fell in love with him every day, as he sacrificed his daily health, to attempt to give our family longer years of health with him in it. He never knew I found him more attractive, because his grit, determination to win, and biggest belief in faith gave our kids a shining example of what sacrifice really was. He never knew that I could never see the scars because the love he had for our son, snuggled up in hospital beds, after the pain finally subsided allowed me to be thankful for one more day of us together. He was blind to the fact that draining black vile liquid from an infected wound, was my way of fixing things for our family during this chaos in our life. He never knew I saw his greatest strength on his weakest days. You see, caretakers don’t see the scars. We don't see the vomiting, diarrhea, hair falling out, wound care and changes. We don’t see the skin rashes, the severely dehydrated skin, or even the toll cancer takes on your body. We roll over every morning, watching your chest rise and fall, rise and fall, rise and fall. And we hold our breath in those moments, thankful that God has spared us another day. We cry tears of joy, knowing he picked us to be the ones to pick you up, take care of you, and fight for you. We cry wishing we could do more, fix the pain, the cancer, the treatments, anything, so you can be healthy again. Most of all, we see all of the reasons we fell in love with you. Caretakers get to fall in love, over and over and over again, as we fight cancer with you. We are a little more thankful we get to be the ones that God chose to be your spouse, and love you through this. We don’t take each moment for granted, and are grateful the perspective of fighting for your health has given our lives. For that, we care deeper, love harder, and appreciate more of the little things. Your fight, determination, perseverance and selflessness outshine any body image of scars and cancer you may have. If only you could see what we see, those are all the things we fell in love with after all. Kristina Smith, a 2018 On The Rise featured caregiver, is a young widow, mother and special education teacher raising her son in Missouri.