TAMPA (BLOOM) – The Author of “You Have Arrived”, Shannon Joy Mekeel, joined Gayle Guyardo, the host of the global health and wellness show, Bloom, to share her and her husband’s story – how they built love and commitment, and have stuck by each other through difficult times.
Mekeel shared the below information with Bloom:
“My husband and I have been together for ten years, and over that time, we have been busy raising my three boys together. We have a very strong bond as this is our second marriage and both of us learned a lot with our “starter marriages.” We consider ourselves a very happy couple and the only thing we ever have fought over was him working too much. He has had a demanding career at Power Design as a Senior Project Manager in the western US territory, and over the past three years, he has traveled about 75% of the time. My husband, Tony, is a proud farm boy from IL and like many men of Generation X, he has always found his self-worth in working hard and providing for his family. We finally were married, eight years to the day of our first date, in a private ceremony on Pass-a-Grille Beach on April 1st, 2021 and hosted our Celebration of Love at Estes Park with family and friends in October of 2021.
Then, last December, just as our youngest was about to graduate high school [my husband] was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Thankfully, his prognosis was good and he had excellent care through the VA and Moffitt Cancer Center. His course of treatment prescribed was Androgen Deprivation Therapy (ADT) for 18 months, Brachytherapy procedure, and six weeks of follow up radiation to the affected area. Nothing the doctors told us would prepare us for how the treatment would affect him and our relationship.
ADT is a delayed release injection under the skin of his belly and its job is to block his body from making testosterone, which feeds the cancer cells. He went from a normal testosterone level of 355 to 6 within a couple weeks. The affects of this treatment included exhausting hot flashes, fatigue, sleeplessness and severe mood changes. He was still my husband. He could work and care for himself, but his personality was so different that I was shocked at the changes. He was no longer confident, nurturing, or excited about life. He was negative, lethargic, uncommunicative, defensive, and always grouchy and emotional. It was as if the worst parts about him were all he could exude and the man he had always been for me and the boys was gone. I thought he had given up on us. I went with him to his appointments but nothing the doctors or nurses told us regarding ADT seemed to explain his complete personality change. Because of HIPPA I was not allowed to call the doctors on his behalf. I went to as many appointments as I could and asked him to go on anti-depressants and the doctor told him “this is the roller coaster of ADT and we had to just enjoy the ride.” I contacted Moffitt and the VA and asked a support group for intimate partners of men being treated with ADT and they offered cancer support groups but nothing for his specific treatment. I was reluctant to attend cancer care give support groups because what we were dealing with was unlike other cancer treatments and I wasn’t his caregiver, I was his wife. I didn’t need to learn how to be a nurse, I just wanted to be able to communicate with my husband.
We went to therapy but our couple’s therapist was not adverse in the affects of ADT, although he did offer general communication strategies. I joined a Facebook support group, “Prostate Cancer Wives (under 60) Talk & Support” and found a band of women who ran the gamut from being supportive to being outraged by my posts. They were all hurting too and quite frankly we had it better than most of the other couples. Cancer is hard. Prostate cancer is the physical challenge, emotional challenge and then this other part with ADT. That part is as if your husband’s soul has been stolen and replaced with that of a 13 year old little girl. Yes, indeed, this has been a wild roller coaster ride. Our extended families in CO and IL were just worried about his mortality and rightly so, but they couldn’t comprehend what was happening between us emotionally. So when I started visiting my girlfriends because we were fighting, they got worried and resented me for it. What they didn’t understand was that I didn’t need to be there to take care of him because he could do the domestic stuff for himself. I needed to take breaks to save our marriage because communicating with him was impossible. Emotions were running high, so we decided it was better if I took breaks as needed.
This stress also drove me to resign from my job in May. I had been a marketing director for a property management group based in Gainesville for the past six years and couldn’t cope with the stress and lack of support any longer while I was constantly worrying about my husband and trying to hold it together for my kids. I didn’t feel supported at work or at home, so I decided to get all the angst out through journaling and that’s what ultimately got me through the first six months of his therapy, and helped us develop practical strategies to deal with ADT and communicate better with one another. I would share pages with him as a way for us to communicate on a deeper level. He couldn’t understand the things I was telling him, but if he read and reread my journal entries he could eventually understand.
What it ultimately came down to was that his cancer diagnosis has been a gift that has allowed us to reprioritize what’s really important. My book, You Have Arrived, was born out of these love letters to my husband. The process of sharing these hard lessons has given us both the opportunity to grow as individuals and as a couple. I started my consulting business on the day I resigned from corporate America in order to help businesses treat their employees better because life shouldn’t be a perpetual hamster wheel. We just got back from our first cruise together and we are bracing for what the next year looks like for him on ADT. Hopefully, armed with the knowledge we have had to earn, things will be a little easier for us, and hopefully by telling our story through Bloom, my website and my book, others will be able to get through this insane rollercoaster a little easier too.”