For any long-term married couple, the idea that your spouse could one day be faced with an agonising and scary health battle simply isn’t worth thinking about. But what happens when that idea becomes reality?
Peter* and his wife Joan* have been happily married for 63 years, after tying the knot at just 20 and welcoming their only daughter at 24.
By all accounts, the couple have been in good health for their whole lives, never considering what might happen should something go wrong for them. However, that’s exactly what they’re now facing after Joan received some devastating news having just celebrated her 84th birthday.
The loving mother has normal blood pressure, has never smoked or drank, but began experiencing some dizzy spells recently. During a recent check-up, she had an MRI scan on her head which showed that she has four aneurysms at the base of her brain. Speaking to Starts at 60, Peter explained that doctors told Joan that if her aneurysms swell and burst, she will die before anyone is able to help her.
“They are merely called Cerebral Aneurysms.” Peter said. “We are still both healthy. We were both shocked.”
Cerebral Aneurysms are caused when there is weakness in the wall of a brain artery. In some cases the aneurysm is present from birth, but it can also be caused by other pre-existing health conditions such as high blood pressure, a build up of cholesterol plaque in the arteries called atherosclerosis, or even previous head injuries.
They occur in around 2 per cent of adults, and more than 10 per cent of those people have multiple aneurysms like Joan, according to the Brain Foundation. In most cases, those with an aneurysm show no symptoms at all, while the onset can occur suddenly and cause severe headaches, nausea, vomiting and even loss of vision and consciousness.
When an aneurysm ruptures it is life-threatening, causing bleeding in the brain, blood clots and sudden death. Despite the prognosis, Peter and Joan have vowed the diagnosis won’t stop them from living life to the full.
“We know we are lucky. We have decided there is really only one option, and that is to live life as though we were not told,” Peter explained. “We metaphorically took a step back to assess, then made our joint decision.”
They have so far just told their daughter and others close to them, hoping not to make a big deal of the news. While difficult, they managed to hold it together and have found others agree with their attitude of not letting the diagnosis stop them from living. They’re also private people, but hope that sharing their story will help others going through a similar experience.
“There are always others worse off than us,” Peter added. “Live, or sit in a corner and cry? We have adopted the attitude that it may never happen.”
The diagnosis hasn’t had an impact on their day-to-day life, with Peter insisting they simply don’t allow it to. In fact, the happy couple will embark on a 32-day cruise over Christmas and New Year and have a series of other cruises booked for 2019.
They opt for cruises over flying because they don’t want the changes in air pressure to complicate Joan’s condition. Peter said the key to their attitude was to keep thinking positively.
“If you believe, you try harder. If you don’t believe, you go downhill,” he said. “My attrition to this is that it is my responsibility to remain fit and healthy so that I may be a crutch for her to lean on.”
*Names in this article have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.