A Man’s Perspective – Caregiving During a Temporary Disability

The third “Man’s Perspective” article I am writing in regards to romance and marriage is from a friend of mine named Joel. Joel McCubbin and his wife Vickie have been married for nearly 50 years and they have a lot of wisdom and insight which I feel will encourage a very broad base of my audience. In this article we are exploring the same questions asked in previous situations with the backdrop of temporary disability.

Joel and his bride Vickie
Joel and his bride Vickie

Vickie has undergone two periods where she battled temporary disability in the form of cancer and pneumonia. Joel himself has had to allow Jesus to guide him each day through care giving (as he prefers to label his caretaking) while working through his own personal diagnosis of bipolar disorder and chemical depression. God has seen them through their journey in many miraculous ways that Joel, a former teacher, recounts to me via messenger. Hearing their love story I was reminded that millions of women battling breast cancer and facing mastectomies and insecurities could use a dose of encouragement from Joel as well.

Without further ado I will let Joel take the stage and tell the story in his own words.

How has your love changed as you transitioned from being married to a woman without a disability to being married to her with a disability?

Disability is one of those words that are difficult to define. My wife, Vickie, is someone that has been temporarily disabled twice, and has the scars to show from it, but at this time even though there have been permanent physical changes, I do not think that either of us would consider her disabled and yes, it is something that we talked about before I attempted to answer these questions.

 In 1996, after being married for over thirty years, having three children whose ages varied from seven to 20, who still lived at home, Vickie was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 54. Her breast care specialist and surgeon and her local oncologist both recommended a radical mastectomy to be followed by intense chemo and radiation. I have a first cousin who is an oncologist in another state and I also sought out his advice. I was surprised at his conservative approach as he considered a mastectomy to equate to amputation and wanted us to consider a lumpectomy as an alternative. Ultimately, because of the location of her tumor she, we, elected to go ahead with the mastectomy and applied for a protocol that would be a study that either led to a bone marrow transplant or to what was classified as standard chemo which would be determined by a blind draw. I immersed myself in studying and finding out anything that I could about breast cancer and assumed a role as caregiver. When Vickie had her surgery it was determined that she had 16 positive lymph nodes of the 20 that were tested. That was when I first began to realize how grave the situation was and how great the possibility was that I might lose my wife. As far as how our love changed, I really think that it was strengthened by the fact that we both realized she was in a fight for her life. I am borrowing a phrase here, but I think she literally changed the actual scars she had into stars with her courage. What someone else might have seen as ugly I saw as beauty. I really do not think she ever felt uncomfortable with me seeing her with one breast. Miraculously she recovered and within two years was doing everything she had done before cancer and more.

 In 2003, on the day before Christmas Eve, Vickie was taken from her doctor’s office by ambulance to the hospital ER. What had been diagnosed previously as bronchitis was determined to be a very rare pneumonia of unknown origin.   The last words I heard from her in 2003 was a request, “Will you wash my feet?” She went to sleep that day and was in a coma for almost three weeks altogether. I never lost hope, but I had to make major adjustments. The cancer she had was life threatening, but this was different and more threatening.   She could die any day. It was like I had become a single parent. Molly, now 27, had moved out, Jon was in college, but was home for the holidays, and Matthew was in middle school.   Physically, there was little that I could do except try to keep things together at home. I had a lot of help and support…I mean a lot. We always had food on the table, transportation for Matthew, and spiritual and emotional support from church family, Vickie’s school colleagues, and the local Emmaus community. I spent eight to sixteen hours a day with her, read Psalm 91 from the Message almost daily, played “Give Me Jesus” by Fernando Ortega around the clock (until someone burned a CD of other Christian artists), tried to keep a diary, and just prayed. On day 20, while Jon and I were with her, watching a football play-off game, I made some off-hand remark such as, “Wow, did you see that play?” Jon responded, “Dad, Dad!” and I replied, “Yeah, wasn’t that something!”

“No Dad, you do not understand,” he was a little miffed with me, “Mom squeezed my hand.”

The nurse confirmed that she had indeed. A couple more days in ICU, followed by a couple more days in primary care, and then a week at the Rehab Center across the street, and finally, one month to the day from the day she first entered the hospital she came home. It would be another six to eight weeks before she returned to teaching, but sometime in April, after Easter, she did just that.

 Neither the cancer nor the pneumonia created a lasting disability as paralysis might or as a leg or arm amputation might, so as time passed in both cases my role as caregiver changed and became less and less.

Do you ever feel frustrated with having to be in the role of caretaker? Explain…

My biggest frustration came as my caregiver role diminished.   A friend from church whose husband had died of cancer leaving her with a young child said it best. “Joel, it is not the big things that get me down, it is the little things day to day that do it.” I understand, in crisis the adrenaline and endorphins kick in, and I did pretty well. As time passed everything caught up with me.

After being married for almost 50 years do you feel being able vs being disabled affects the core of a relationship?

Financial situations affect the core, children affect the core, job stability affects the core, who might be the primary wage earner affects the core, and yes, health and disability affect the core. The actual situation is not the problem; it is the reaction of both the caregiver and the disabled one that affects the relationship. It can be positive and it can be negative or it may just be more of the same old thing it has always been. For Vickie and me, I really believe it is more about being able to totally rely upon our Creator, our God and our LORD. If He brought us to it, He will bring us through it.

Men are created to build and fix things. As a man how do you deal with and handle being unable to “fix” your wife’s disability?

That was her father, not me. He was amazing as a builder and fixer. Me? Not so much.   But emotionally, sometimes my fix-its do not turn out well. Vickie and I had some of her worst fights because she would be upset at someone or something and I would try to fix it by having her to look at it from the other person’s perspective. That never turned out well for me. As far as dealing with illness and disability, there was nothing I could do except to learn to rely upon prayer.

Did you get bored with not being able to do more physical activities (i.e. hiking, dancing, walking far, etc.) together?

Bored? Absolutely not.   I’ve got more “guy time” than I have ever had; she is the same with “the girls”, then we have our time, but sometimes I have too much of my alone time when I wish it could be more of our time.   I do need alone time like now, or anytime I am writing, when I am trying to respond to these questions.

Joel and Vickie spending time with their young granddaughter
Joel and Vickie spending time with their young granddaughter

Does attraction change with physical deformities?

As I have said before, her scars have been transformed into stars.   There are times I still see the twenty-two year old with whom I first fell in love. I think I have fallen in love with her again in the last year. And I fell in love with her a few times, no, make that many times, in the in-between years. Almost fifty years it has been and it is all because God is good, all the time. Were there bad times? Of course there were.

How do you feel society and “models” create an unhealthy standard of what love/physical attraction really is?

Have you ever seen a Viagra commercial? I was going to say it is not all about “Intense Arousal”. Holding hands, kissing, backrubs and foot rubs, back rubs and massage, snuggling, and spooning are all really nice. Did I mention backrubs?

What would you say to a young disabled and single girl who may feel she is deformed and love will not ever find her?

I would say much the same thing that I would say to any single person, male or female, young or old. The apostle Paul said it is better to be single to carry out the LORD’s work. Practice agape love, practice phileo love. Examine what the bible has to say about eros love. DON’T JUMP IN BED WITH SOMEONE JUST BECAUSE HE TAKES YOU OUT ON A DATE.

I would give her the book, “Single and Free To Be Me” by Dr. Clarence Shuler. https://www.createspace.com/4045024

How do you feel about people staring at your spouse? A lot of our society models after a “trophy wife” mentality that sets up women to be objectified or lusted/coveted after when looked at but being with a disabled wife the looks of envy turn to looks of pity…how do you see that in your mind?

Not really applicable for me, us. But if I may be allowed a side comment, I had to go back to your earlier post and look for it. I cannot imagine anyone having a look of pity for you or Rick, as I look at you standing at the top of some steps in that blue dress with that high heel sandal. You said it in your caption. “Then he said to me… ‘Babe, you ARE my normal…’”

Are there times when your wife seems to emotionally disconnect and isolate from you for whatever reason (low confidence, pain, etc.)? How do you help her to reconnect to you?

It is really just the opposite. That is where we, Vickie and I do a flip-flop and it is my disability of having bi-polar disorder and dealing with chemical depression.

Is it difficult to transition from the role of caretaker to the role of romantic interest?

I am struggling with the word caretaker in place of caregiver. Caregiving as in Giving Care is just something you give as you would give a gift of any kind. That transition seems fairly natural I think.

How can you be attracted to someone that obviously looks so different on the outside?

I was and am pretty self-conscious about my eyes, which were crossed at birth, corrected surgically somewhat when I was six, but now that I am older I have muscle weakness that has me looking outward with one eye or the other just the opposite of crossed-eyes. Around the house that is pretty normal [for Vickie to be braless without her prostheses]. OK, I liked the “girls” as my sister calls them, but with or without prosthetic breasts she looks really good to me.

Inevitably when care taking in close proximity you will “step on toes” and hit boundaries with your loved one…thoughts on this?

Maybe, there has been a time or two where she has one of her really close “girl friends” wanting to help with the caregiving and I have felt a little jealous at being left out. I got over it. I had to be careful that I did not jump in too much during doctor visits. There again is that man thing about wanting to fix-things

Is there any particular scripture or time that God has spoken to you throughout your relationship and helped to guide you into the married couple you are now?

Ephesians 5:25, where it says…. ”Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it”


3 thoughts on “A Man’s Perspective – Caregiving During a Temporary Disability

  1. I have already thanked four other friends for their support today, but I do not feel I can go to bed now without thanking Rick N Ashly for their prayers with me and for me last night and today. And also to thank just Ashly for kindly sharing my story and Vickie’s on Crutchprints in the Sand.

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