Cancer Caregiver and Survivor Proves that the Right Help Makes a Big Difference

Written By:Amanda Dobbs

In September 2010, Frances Busta’s husband Jim, woke her up and said, “There’s something wrong.” His head felt dizzy and his hand was tingling. Fran was afraid he was having a stroke and called 911.

Instead of going to play softball that day, Jim was rushed to the hospital, and after a battery of tests, he was diagnosed with a fast-growing type of brain tumor known as glioblastoma.

The Bustas learned that Jim might have only a year to live, and Fran learned she’d be stepping into the challenging role of cancer caregiver. Although the road since then has not been easy, today – 5 years after Jim’s diagnosis and almost 4 years after facing cancer herself – Fran is enjoying life and spending time with a partner who has beaten the odds.

One unexpected diagnosis after another

When she first heard that Jim had a brain tumor, Fran was shocked. “You can’t even imagine what it’s like to go through that,” she says. Jim quickly started treatment, however, and his treatment plan, which included the targeted therapy drug Avastin, seemed to be working.

In the months that followed, the family was still coping with Jim’s ongoing illness and prognosis when Fran got another piece of shocking news: a routine mammogram showed something unusual in her breast. She remembers thinking to herself, “This isn’t going to be anything. How can that be?” But tests confirmed she had stage 3 breast cancer. Once she got the diagnosis, she aggressively sought treatment. As she explains, her attitude was, “I need to get this taken care of ASAP in case I need to be there for Jim.”

She underwent treatment, and even though she and her husband were now both cancer patients, they were able to care for each other and handle the rigors of daily life. Fran now has no more evidence of cancer, but unfortunately, things changed abruptly for Jim in early 2015 when he had to stop taking Avastin because of side effects that threatened his liver. His tumor, which had been kept under control, now began affecting his ability to walk.

A different kind of caregiving

Jim, who hade been primarily independent, suddenly needed a wheelchair. “It was really, really hard because all of a sudden, he couldn’t stand, he couldn’t walk,” says Fran. That meant she had to provide a whole new kind of caregiving: one that included helping Jim with his physical mobility. This level of care was far more challenging than anything she’d faced before. “It was physically exhausting for me and emotionally exhausting for him,” she says. She retired from her job in order to care for him full time, but still struggled with the effort of keeping up with his needs.

Fran’s daughter Julie, an American Cancer Society patient navigator, knew her mom needed help. “She saw us wearing down,” said Fran, and Julie recommended that her mother seek out some support groups for caregivers.

“It was so great to talk to people and to get some ideas on how to do things,” Fran says of her support group experience. However, Fran credits Jim’s physical therapy sessions with her biggest caregiving breakthrough. “I thought physical therapy was going to be good for him – it was 100% more beneficial to me,” she says.

A physical therapist taught her some simple techniques to help care for Jim, such as how to safely move him from the bed to a wheelchair without getting hurt herself. “I just can’t say enough about that kind of help for a caregiver,” she says. She also invested in a wheelchair accessible van so she and Jim could travel together more comfortably.

A change for the better

"The more I learned that I was going to be doing everything, the more I learned to let certain things go. That chore? That'll be there. The best thing I can do is spend time with him."

Frances Busta

Once Fran found the help she needed, she and Jim were much better able to cope with the ongoing challenges of cancer and caregiving. “We can talk and laugh,” she says. “We’re not so physically exhausted.”

She found that letting go of some responsibilities helped, too. “The more I learned that I was going to be doing everything, the more I learned to let certain things go,” she says. “That chore? That’ll be there. The best thing I can do is spend time with him.” Though the progress was slow, these small victories have helped boost both Fran’s and Jim’s spirits. “It took 10 months, but now I can say, ‘I got this’,” says Fran. “We are so at peace. We can do this, and we are taking it one day at a time.”

Today, Fran still celebrates the small things. “To be 5 years out with glioblastoma – we are very blessed,” she says. But when it came time to celebrate their 34th wedding anniversary in June 2015, Fran and Jim wanted to do something a little bigger. They decided to take part in their local American Cancer Society Relay For Life event on their anniversary. “We thought since it was to honor survivors, it was a great way to celebrate,” says Fran. “We couldn't think of a better way to celebrate being together and supporting ACS for all of the services they provide for cancer patients.”

They plan to continue to take part in Relay events into the future, and for Fran, that future isn’t as scary as it once was. “We are very hopeful and optimistic that he will be here,” she says of Jim. “Even though he can’t walk, he makes me laugh every day.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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