Cancer Diagnosis Can’t Diminish Couple’s Devotion
Mike Birgen and his wife Christy love each other so much they got married twice. They wed in December 2005, once on land by a Justice of the Peace and again on a Disney cruise by the ship’s captain.
“Every year we celebrate two anniversaries,” Mike explained. “I give her roses both days. On the first day she chooses what she wants for dinner and I make a special meal for the two of us at home. The second day we go out and celebrate again.”
The couple met on Match.com. Mike saw her picture and read her profile on the site and decided to send her a message. The two hit it off and spoke on the phone every day. Mike lived in Virginia Beach and Christy was in Maine at the time so he would fly up to visit her every two months. After they got married Christy relocated to Virginia Beach. The couple has two teenage sons, Ryan and Jacob.
A heart-wrenching diagnosis
Christy was diagnosed with breast cancer in November of 2013. She underwent a lumpectomy and a mastectomy of her left breast. She had TRAM reconstruction surgery and is scheduled for more surgeries in the near future.
“My wife’s breast cancer diagnosis was heart wrenching,” Mike said. “She was at work when the doctor called to tell her the news and I told her she needed to come home right away. At that time we talked about what she was feeling and what her options were.”
Christy’s diagnosis was not Mike’s first experience with cancer. His grandmother was diagnosed and passed away when he was a teenager.
The couple decided not to tell their sons about their mother’s cancer diagnosis right away. They wanted to wait until after they had received more information from the clinic.
“The boys and I, all three of us, were wait staff for Christy after her surgery,” Mike said. “She had a phone by her bed and called the boys whenever she needed help. They didn’t complain and would drop whatever they were doing to help her.”
Mike admits that he often felt helpless during his wife’s cancer treatments and surgeries, but he did his best to be there for her and to hold her hand. “It was my job to be strong for her,” he said.
The darkest night
After her surgery Christy didn’t want to talk to her husband about her cancer. She would talk with him about other things, but whenever the subject of her cancer came up she wouldn’t discuss it. She told him that he didn’t understand what she was going through. Mike, upset and concerned about his wife, found Beyond Boobs! one night during an Internet search. He contacted the group and they called a few hours later to talk to Christy at 2:30 in the morning.
“I sat downstairs while she talked on the phone upstairs,” Mike recalled. “I owe so much to Shawni [Twyman] and Charlene [Cattoi] from Beyond Boobs! They gave me my wife back that night.”
Love after cancer
Mike feels that he and Christy have an even stronger bond after what they have been through together. “After her surgeries I still kissed her in all the same places,” he said. “I would kiss her where her breast used to be so that she wouldn’t feel the loss. I love her for who she is and her boob doesn’t make a difference to me.”
Mike advises other husbands whose wives face a cancer diagnosis to be there for their partners and to help guide them. “Be there for your wives however you can,” he said. “If you encounter problems, a cancer-support group can offer help. Beyond Boobs! is amazing and they have made all the difference in the world for us.”