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Support Group Gathers Around Cancer Caregivers

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CBS DFW (con't)

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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Their marriage was a loving one, but Scott Baker admits he didn’t know what to do once his wife was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2008.

Baker and four other North Texas men have written a book about their experiences called “Stages: Husband’s stories about life, love and living on when a significant other has cancer.”

“Every person’s cancer journey is unique” says Baker.  “You start seeing themes in there” he says about the book.

“We just take one day at a time” says Vicki Baker, whose cancer is in remission.  She recently went back to work and says she is feeling healthy.

Baker says men rarely share their concerns with others, but he’s part of a support group for men that meets the first and third Tuesday of every month with a facilitator at the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Baker says there are 10 men who regularly attend the meetings and about 35 on the email list.  Others who wish to participate are welcome.

“What’s also beautiful about the group is there are guys here who where you are going to wind up. Because we have men whose wives have died. And they still come,” says longtime group member Ralph Long.

Long remembers the day he got married and the day his wife was originally diagnosed with breast cancer in 1984.  “When someone says to me, I understand where you are and what you’re going through, it’s real.”

Another participant, Bob Graham, says he dealt with frustration and anger quite a bit.  “I had an anger and I wanted to take it out on just about anything I could find” says Graham, who lost both of his wives to cancer.

His first wife, of 30 years, died in 1989.  His second wife, Betty, passed away two decades later.  Betty urged Graham to attend the men’s support group after she was diagnosed.  “Betty said, ‘no you need to go, you need to go, you need to go.  You’re not going to handle this too good.’”

“The main thing is to be talking” says Baker.  “Men really try to internalize the problem” he says.

In the last two months two of the men in the support group have lost their wives to cancer.  Still they come back to share and be comforted by the group.

“It would’ve been 29 years this coming Sunday,” Tom Palmer said.  Palmer lost his wife Ann to breast cancer two weeks ago.  “Found out it metastisized to her bones in January.”

Palmer admits he wasn’t even sure he wanted to join the group at first.  “I joined it as a support group but I didn’t know what a support group meant. I’d never been to one.”

Now he knows. “We can be all talking about some inane thing and then somebody will say, ‘Guys, here’s, let me tell you what happened.'”

“You can’t find this on a leather sofa with a box of tissue. What happens in that group is absolute genius. It is the ultimate in connection,” he adds.

The group is open to men whose wives or partners are battling any kind of cancer.  One of the conditions of the group is that all of their discussions be kept confidential.

The book includes stories written by five of the men and includes a list of caregiver tips and a list of things to keep close at hand for hospital visits.

Graham writes in the book, “The only item I can pass on is to talk to your family and plan together so everyone knows all the expectations when the circle of life is complete.”

The group also has a website, menssupportgroupforcancercaregivers.org.

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