Every week, Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Am I a terrible person?: A little background: My wife of 30 years has stage 4 metastatic breast cancer that has invaded her spine. She lives in constant pain, using heavy narcotics (such as fentanyl and oxycodone) to get through the day. Although the cancer has spread to quite a few places in her bones, there is no cancer in any major organs. I don’t want her to die, but I hate seeing her in constant pain and how limited her life is (and mine, too!).
All the medications available have a lot of direct side effects, and since she has a delicate constitution, they generally affect her more than normal. As this cancer has metastasized, all the doctors can do is prolong her life, generally at the cost of quality. Unless there’s a major miracle, or something else happens first, this disease will ultimately be the end of her.
Am I a terrible person for just wanting this to be over? (P.S. I would never, under any circumstances, express this to her. I am supportive, kind, loving, and very involved with her care. Whenever she expresses any doubts, I do my best to comfort her and tell her whatever choices she makes, I will support her.)
A: No, you’re not a terrible person for wishing to see your wife out of pain. You love her, and that’s exactly why you wish her suffering wouldn’t be drawn-out and prolonged. Being the spouse of someone with cancer is incredibly difficult, and I hope you’re getting the support, both emotional and logistical, that you need. It can be easy to overlook your own needs when you’re caring for a sick partner.
In addition to supporting your wife’s choices, whatever they may be, have you considered discussing your concerns about quality of life with both her and her medical care team? You can both hope for a sudden breakthrough and ask for palliative care and possible alternatives to heavy opiates—that’s not the same thing as giving up. Her current quality of life—and yours!—matter just as much as trying to fight her cancer.