Married to Queen: What Happens When Your Wife Has Cancer
Experiencing the cancer journey on another path
By Marianne Aleardi

Queen Stewart was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer at the end of 2021. We continue our special series following her as she continues her cancer treatment and her quest to live a full life.

PHOTOS BY DAVID MICHAEL HOWARTH

When Queen Stewart received her Stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis at the end of last year, she was sitting in the doctor’s office with her husband Richard, who she’s been married to for 11 years. They have two daughters, ages 2 and 7. In the months since, Richard has been taking the same cancer journey, only in a very different way.

“It was just disbelief,” Richard says, “because it’s something you don’t associate with a young, healthy person like Queen. The first thing I thought about was my wife and the stress and uncertainty she must be feeling. The next thought was my kids, and what if the worst case scenario occurred? How do I explain that to my young children? How do I live on and try to live a productive and positive life – without her?”

“I attended all the doctors’ appointments I could, but there are still Covid restrictions. A lot of the appointments were frustrating because doctors give you the best information they can, but they can never talk with certainty. It can be very frustrating because you’re like, ‘Well, how bad is it?’ It’s a simple question, but you can’t get a clear answer because, obviously, they don’t know, and they don’t want to give you false hope.”

“And for those appointments when I can’t be in the doctor’s office because of Covid, she might come home and tell me she was crying, and I know I wasn’t there for her,” Richard says. “She has to do it on her own. I can’t imagine that. I just want to be as supportive as I can.”

“So we try to take it day by day. Just saying to ourselves, ‘What’s today’s goal?’ That way you don’t let your mind wander and go into a negative light. It’s easy to forget there’s a lot of happiness and positivity still in your life. Cancer doesn’t have to dominate your mental state. If I focus on my thoughts, Queen gets lost. My children get lost.”

Because Richard’s job had switched to remote work during the pandemic, he was available to help during the day with things like picking up the girls from school or driving Queen to her chemo treatments (he wasn’t allowed inside). The couple also used his flexible time at home to have lunch together on days when Queen was feeling down.

“I’m an attorney, and I work for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in Philadelphia. We’re still in a mandatory telework posture which, looking back, has been a blessing. I probably would have had to take a lot of time off if I were in a traditional nine to five role. But I’ve been able to shoulder some of the parental responsibility as Queen focuses on her health. But I also have to make sure I’m staying afloat at my job. Everyone there has been very accommodating, and I appreciate that.”

At home, the pair has had to make a conscious effort to work on their relationship as a couple, especially considering that Queen has had a double mastectomy.

“In the beginning it was a really hard time. I would cover myself because I was so embarrassed,” Queen says. “I felt deformed.”

“Our sex lives have changed,” Richard adds. “Queen literally told me her sexual desires weren’t the same, that there was a lot going on with her body and her mind. The way she put it hit me hard because it was so true. I could imagine if I was in her position, sex wouldn’t be on my mind. I had to listen to her and respect what she was saying. I didn’t want to put any sexual pressure on her. I know this isn’t how our sex life will be 5-10 years from now. It was important that we had those conversations, so we could both realize this is temporary.”

Those conversations had the same positive effect on Queen. “I started to realize that it didn’t seem to bother Richard. And then I understood this was temporary because I will have reconstructive surgery, and I’ll be whole again.”

Queen and Richard have continued to have deep, open conversations on a regular basis. Richard says it’s key. “You need to have patience, because even if we talk at times about what’s going on in her head, I never really know 100% what she’s thinking.”

“The next thought was my kids, and what if the worst case scenario occurred? How do I explain that to my young children? How do I live on and try to live a productive and positive life – without her?”

But at the same time, Richard is careful how much he shares with Queen. “I mean, do I really want to stress my wife about whatever the issue is,” he says. “I have to make that decision. We do have candid conversations, and we still have arguments sometimes, but I have to be selective, because I know what I say will have an effect on her mental state, and she needs to have energy and strength to handle her internal issues and deal with cancer. I don’t want her wasting energy on something we’re arguing about. In retrospect, when I think of what we used to argue about, it just seems silly. So I take a step back and ask myself if I can do better. It’s hard, but I have to. Every problem doesn’t have to be solved today.”

For Queen, those sacrifices Richard is making have made an impact. “I know how much he focuses on me, and that he holds back telling me how he feels because of that,” she says. “He’s so good with the girls. He’s helping around the house. He’s helped in every way I’ve asked him to, even if I just have a day when I’m down and I need to watch a movie, he’ll just lay with me. I know all he’s doing for me. I hope someday I can repay him.”

But of course for Richard, this is what he signed up for, and what he’ll continue to do. “Because, you know,” he says, “even though she’s the patient, she’s still the family rock. She keeps everything together – sick or not sick.”

June 2022
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