Couple Shares Lessons on CaregivingDec 7, 2010
When Dan Bard was diagnosed with stage 2 prostate cancer 14 years ago, his wife, Sally, became his advocate. Leaning on her skills as a quality assurance nurse, Sally diligently researched the disease and options for treatment.
That didn’t mean plugging some words into Google.
“The research then was not as easy as it is today,” says Sally, 68, who read every magazine and journal article she could get her hands on, and talked with prostate cancer experts recommended by her colleagues.
With Sally's help, Dan eventually decided on a radical prostatectomy – although his quick recovery made the surgery seem anything but drastic. “We were back dancing within 6 weeks of his surgery,” Sally says.
Despite Dan’s mantra that prostate cancer is only an obstacle to conquer in life, the Bards have had their struggles. Since the initial diagnosis in 1996, radiation and hormonal therapy have beaten back two recurrences. And although Dan didn’t experience incontinence as a result of treatment, impotence required the couple to make adjustments.
“I thought after Dan had his surgery that we’d be just like we were before, and that didn’t happen,” Sally says. “We decided that we have to be close in all facets of our marriage, not just in the sexual part of it. You’re not an intimate couple anymore, so you have to have your intimacy in other ways.”
Knowledge is power
"Even though it's a man's disease, it affects the couple. The macho man has to realize that his wife is there with him, and she's probably not being recognized enough as someone who has been very supportive of him."
Sally says the best way she knew how to care for her husband of 50 years was to learn as much as she could about prostate cancer. “It’s something where you can feel you have some control if you’re knowledgeable about what’s happening.”
She’s never even missed a doctor’s appointment. “For the past 14 years, when I go to the doctor, she comes right in with me,” says Dan, 70. “I think it’s a lot easier living with someone who knows about the cancer and knows what you’re going through than to come home and have to explain it to someone who’s not totally informed.”
Sally’s advice for men? Aside from the role of patient, don’t forget to play the part of husband. “Even though it’s a man’s disease, it affects the couple. The macho man has to realize that his wife is there with him, and she’s probably not being recognized enough as someone who has been very supportive of him.”
The couple now lives in The Villages, a retirement community in Central Florida, where Dan facilitates the local Man To Man prostate cancer support group. And Sally recently helped start a support group for wives.
But the grandmother of five isn’t one to pat herself on the back. “I never questioned that this was a role I had to fill. It was just part of our marriage.”
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