Wife died of rapid cancer - tips on processing it

I’m 47 and lost my wife ( age 45) to an aggressive breast cancer earlier this month. She had kidney issues since the birth of our son 12 years ago and she had a transplant in 2012. However everything has been fairly good since the transplant until June 2018. My wife looked after her health and had a good job and was fit. She had a few issues in June which the doctors thought were related to the kidney. After a hellish summer in and out of hospital they still couldn’t diagnose her condition and believed it to be inflammation in the bowel or pelvis. To cut a long story short they eventually did a colonoscopy and we got the results at end of October . The devastating news was that they found cancerous cells but not from the bowe - it was a spread. It was unknown primary for next 2 or 3 weeks. The thing I’m finding so difficult on top of everything else is the rapid decline in the last 2 to 3 weeks. From a cancer diagnosis at the end of October to her passing in early December. Her health nosedived rapidly with ascites and breathing difficulty. She was still shopping with me in mid November but died 3 weeks later. The final diagnosis was aggressive breast cancer that had spread to multiple sites . I know the immunosuppressive regime ( for the kidney) may have hastened the cancer but the speed was untrue and left us all completely unprepared . Does anyone have any advice about how to process this and deal with grief relating to such a sudden event? She was due chemotherapy but never actually got there.( I have no gripes with her care and treatment by the NHS). Thank you , Paul

Hello Paul
So sorry for your loss of your wife,i can say that i understand grief relating to a sudden event,in a different way from your lovely wife,my husband died from a cardiac arrest at home,one moment he was stood in the bedroom in front of me he spoke,i turned around and he was on the floor breathing heavily,he went into a coma for 4 days ,never came back,he was 59 yrs,the shock is immense and cannot be processed all at once,it takes a long time for it to sink in,i was in shock,and numb of emotion for months,i think our brain helps us to process trauma slowly little by little,then our grief seems to thaw a little and release emotion,there are many on here who have lost loved ones from cancer and they will be able to give you their experiences,i can only say again im sorry you find yourself on this site where none of us wish to be,but we are all together in the grief we feel and i hope you find some comfort here,please take care of yourself and your son,through these first trouble months as i know it can be a time we neglect ourselves physically and emotionally,and we need strength to keep living on through it,take care x

Hello Paul, my husband,Tim, passed away on 2nd December just 6 weeks after diagnosis of bile duct cancer. He went from being strong and healthy to really poorly in such a short time. I and our family are still in shock, really struggling to make sense of it all. I wish I could offer some advice or help but I too am floundering. I am so sorry for your loss


Hi Paul
I’m so sorry for your loss.
My story is extremely similar. My wife Margaret died on the 2nd of July from bowel cancer that had spread to her liver,ovaries, lymph nodes and pancreas. She had no previous symptoms we were in Dublin at the end of may at a concert and she complained of a pain in her side that would not ease. I took her to A&E and that was it she was admitted to hospital on 21st June was offered no treatment and given 2 weeks to live she died 10 days later she was 51 years old and we had just celebrated our 25 wedding anniversary and were together for 30 years. As for any tips I have none. It will be 6 months on Wednesday and I have no idea how I’m still here. The best advice is one day at a time or like I do 1 hour at a time. Please take all the help you can. My 3 adult children and little granddaughter who was born 5 weeks after Margaret died have been fantastic. I found this site by accident and it has been a godsend I don’t post as much nowadays but still read a lot of posts. Keep posting on here someone will always reply it will help.
Please take care

Thanks Robina, very kind words. As you say, it actually helps to know you’re part of a wider community and that others are going through the same thing. It can be very lonely while everyone else carries on with their Christmas. Paul

Thanks Josie. Yes I always thought there would be warning signs and time to say goodbye properly . I never saw it this way at all. My son is keeping me going though. Paul

Thanks William. Yes very similar pattern which is so cruel and hard to process. Almost like a car crash I imagine. I find that talking lots helps me and I’m sure this community will give much needed mutual support. I believe taking advice is the best approach , given I have no clue how to process this .

Yes talking helps at the beginning I would talk to anyone who would listen.
I also find reading books on grief a help it sounds odd but it helps in feeling you are not alone and how other people cope.

My wife died from brain cancer, a Glioblastoma. Four years ago she was given 12 months to live but she actually lived for just over 4 years. I don’t know how she lived under that cloud and coped with 2 brain operations, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She had some relatively good days and I was glad she was there for so long.
However, had it been me I’m not sure that I could go through all that. I think I would take a different shorter route.
At a selfish level I had time to prepare, although I didn’t really.
I would suggest you get the book “Its OK to not be ok” by Megan Devine as she has walked the walk. Maybe have a look at her website plus one called What’s Your Grief.
I can’t offer any easy answers. Sorry.

Yes great book also cs Lewis a grief observed or being Adam go lightly for widowers.

Sorry about your wife - it sounds like a long gruelling battle. Yes in some ways I’m glad my wife didn’t go through chemo as it probably would have killed her given the aggressive nature of the cancer and her other critical disease. At least I can take some comfort from that . I will look up the book you mentioned . Re grief - I found a YouTube video helpful - “Coping with grief - a guided meditation - Jason Stephenson . Paul

I lost my husband just over 5 weeks ago to lung cancer and although our story is different and we had more time to come to terms with things! I really struggle with that one day he was up and walking about and talking to me be the next being what the nurses call flat and I can’t begin to understand how that even happens! I’m so sorry for you loss Paul!

Sorry to you too Amielou. Yes it’s unbelievable that they can appear relatively normal one moment and then pass away the next. The fine line between life and death. I was with my wife when she passed, she was talking normally and I was adjusting her pillow as she requested. Then within an hour she was gone . How does that happen?

I have no idea how it happens but it’s very unfair! I try to take comfort in the fact I was with my husband when he passed and I got the chance to say good bye and I was the last thing he saw but I sometimes still struggle because I’m only 27 and I just wish we could have had longer together! Amie

Paul, I feel for you. Similar experience to my non drinking/smoking husband (died aged 53 and 53 days). He felt tired and rubbish in June with blood tests coming back as satisfactory then blood tests 4 weeks ( after a 2 week foreign holiday) later indicating serious concerns around function of his liver. Died 4 weeks later from aggressive/ hard to detect cancer. It is only now that I am beginning to process this. My tips for survival are: be selfish, get a routine, get outdoors, eat and sleep, spend time with good friends and talk and think often of your wife. Do not anticipate “ getting back to normal” - I just say I am finding out what my new normal is going to be. Your priority is you and your son - note singular not plural - you are a unit. Thinking of you, and everyone, on this site. Sadly, you ( we) are not alone in adversity. Cx

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Thanks Cristal - I’m sorry this happened to you too, but that reply was a lovely message of support. Yes I’ve told my son that whilst it will never be the same , it will give us more opportunities to do boys stuff ( riding bikes , going to football) than we did before and we need to create a new normal. It’s crazy though thinking I could go another 40 years without my wife and he 70 years. But I guess you should avoid those thoughts . Many thanks, Paul

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I lost my husband suddenly too. He was fit and strong and always working hard. He thought he had a bad back but the orthopaedic doctor spotted something wasn’t right and 2 days later we were told he had cancer. It was metastatic lung cancer which had spread to his spine and he passed away just 2 weeks later on 6th November.

It was such a terrible shock. Our children and niece and nephew were with me when he passed away and we really struggled to understand what had happened. We felt guilty, that we should have done more or forced the doctors to give him some sort of treatment.

I have since spoken to a doctor who has explained in layman’s terms what physically happened and this has helped give us some peace but whether we will ever truly understand, I’m not sure.

Hi Mamma J. Sorry to hear your story too. Yes the timing still doesn’t make sense and it’s so hard to know the brain and faculties were all in place , just the body let her down. I also have a meeting with the Consultant planned which may help towards my healing. Thanks for taking the time to respond - it really helps . Many thanks , Paul

Hi Paul, I lost my lovely husband George on the 29th November this year. We had been on holiday until the 21st September, and whilst he had a bit of back pain nothing could prepare us for the aggressive lymphoma that robbed him of all quality of life. It was in his lungs, abdomen, spinal cord and ribs. He died within 6 weeks of a diagnosis of cancer from a blood clot in his lungs. Sadly I was not with him and it is something I am struggling to process. I wake up in the night totally distressed worrying if he was frightened in his last few moments or called for me. The doctor’s said he pressed his buzzer, they tried to give him oxygen and he collapsed. They worked on him for 1/2 hour to no avail. I just wish they could have done more, but like your wife I think he would have struggled to survive the chemotherapy. He had a known heart problem, but it was mild. However, the chemo he needed could have affected his heart, and I think the outcome probably would have been the same. It is still hard for me to accept though. I am 52 and try to not think of the years ahead of me without my soulmate. My children are now grown ups and need to lead their own lives. My husband was a widower when we married. His wife died to sudden adult death syndrome, leaving him with an 11 year old daughter. Enjoy your time with your son, he needs you. My daughter pretended her mummy was on holiday and was coming back; that was her way of coping. In hindsight she probably needed some counselling so, if you have not already done so, it may be worth looking at this for your son, as he might bottle things not wanting to upset you. I know Victoria wrote a lot down, and now many years later, she has told me how much she struggled but did not tell anyone. My heart goes out to you both. Take care xx

Thanks Debra for telling me your story , I am so sorry for you too. I don’t believe your husband would have been in pain or distress in his final moments. The body is amazing and pumps the brain full of feel-good chemicals which assist the pain relief administered by clinical teams (if applicable). Thanks for the advice about my son. I shall explore the counselling route for him. I hope you find joy again Debra , you sound like a lovely person and deserve it. Paul

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