Cancer affects the whole family |

Cancer affects the whole family

John Gardner
Post Independent Staff
Kelley Cox/Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado “Bruce McMillan knows that fear all too well.

He sat with his wife Jessica, who recently was diagnosed with stage-four liver cancer, as she waited for her second chemotherapy treatment at Shaw.

His fidgety hands and his left leg doing a good impression of a rock-and-roll drummer pounding on the bass drum in the waiting area revealed his nerves.

“It’s hard,” he said. “There was a lot of crying the first couple of days.”

Bruce and Jessica have been married for 23 years. Bruce survived a bout with testicular cancer in his 20s, so the current situation is both all too familiar and utterly unknown territory, all at the same time, for him.

“Having been here before, I know what it’s like,” he said. “But after the diagnosis, you don’t hear anything for about 10 minutes.”

His leg stopped jerking up and down.

Even without having experienced cancer firsthand, spouses often are affected in much the same way, according to David Staat, a counselor at Shaw.

“In most cases, the spouses experience parallel emotions to the patient ” the shock of the diagnosis and the grief of loss that one goes through during a traumatic illness,” Staat said.

Oftentimes, Staat said, spouses will experience an emotional “numbing” and will try to distance themselves from the situation. Counselors like Staat will try to help them deal with their emotions.

“Sometimes the caregiver has a tougher time with it,” Jessica said. “They can take care of you but have no control over what happens to you.”

Bruce not only works a full-time job, he is now a full-time care provider for his wife. Bruce prepares her meals, which can be difficult, because her tastes have changed through the chemotherapy, so he’s not sure what she will like. He helps her keep track of the numerous medications and drives her to every appointment she has. There is no separating himself from the situation or the disease. Confusing doesn’t begin to explain Bruce’s disposition.

“He is shy,” Jessica insists.

His silence displays the uncertainty in his eyes.

“We try to help verbalize what they are going through,” Staat said. “Oftentimes they feel alone and don’t know how to cope with it. We explain that what they are feeling is normal and try to connect them with others that have gone through it.”

Jessica knows it’s hard on her husband, and she doesn’t know how to relieve his pain. Frustrating is an understatement.

“Sometimes when you’re sick you don’t know what you need,” she said. “Bruce can’t help, because he doesn’t know what I need, either, and I can’t tell him what I need because I don’t know.”

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