Riding out serious illness

Shortly after the birth of her daughter, trucker’s wife Denise Corbit went through surgery followed by three months of radiation and eight months of chemotherapy to cure metastasized cervical cancer. “That was the hardest thing I ever had to do alone, but I’ve now been cancer-free for almost two years,” she says. Her husband got in as often as possible, but financial obligations meant no time off. Facing her own mortality strengthened Corbit’s resolve. “I learned that no matter what happens, you can be strong enough to beat it.”

Truckers’ wives who confront serious illness while their husbands are on the road often learn, as Corbit did, just how tough it can be. Alone to face their fears and discomfort, most discover a greater independence and personal fortitude.

Christie Clark of Florida has experienced a hysterectomy, a collapsed lung and kidney stones during the 20 years her husband has been driving. “Seems that medical emergencies mainly occur when he’s far from home,” she says. “As with most trucking families, coming home has not been an option for him.”

Facing medical emergencies alone has given Clark a no-nonsense approach to coping. “Most of us want to be comforted by our spouse. But the real perspective is that you and your doctors must deal with the immediate crisis.” She has also found a positive side. “Being on my own for a crisis tends to make me face the task at hand, get well quick and not sweat the small stuff,” she says.

Having a severely ill wife at home is enormously stressful for a trucker, who is often working harder to cover medical bills. Clark has learned not to complain to her husband about every little cough or cold. Her family has his dispatch number and Qualcomm address for emergencies, although Clark puts a high priority on her husband’s driving safety. “They know not to notify him until I’m stable,” she says. “There’s nothing worse than not having all the details and letting your imagination run wild.”

Taking care of the children is one of the biggest problems when a lone mother faces an extended illness. During her chemotherapy, Corbit’s parents took her children, partly because the treatment depresses the immune system. Loved ones also become the emotional support network. “You learn who your true friends are,” Corbit says.

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Even so, the man in the truck can be a source of great comfort even when absent. “I get my strength from Al’s confidence in my ability to handle problems,” Clark says. “On the other hand, I’m not too proud to tell him when I really need his help.”