When Dave Kreycik was undergoing radiation to treat tonsil cancer, he didn’t know if he would survive the last five days. Just a few months after successfully completing his treatments, Dave’s wife Paula was diagnosed with cancer, and he learned that being a cancer patient was actually easier than caring for one, especially if it’s the person you love most.
Dave and Paula were partners in every sense. Friends since 1980, Paula came to work for Dave at his accounting firm in 1989, and following the death of her first husband, Dave and Paula married in 2000. Together, they were parents of seven children, avid readers, hikers, travelers, bluegrass lovers and, perhaps most of all, passionate about their work. Even during their respective illnesses, they both found solace in serving their clients, all of whom were close friends. Every year following the demanding tax season, the couple would take a road trip to Sedona to meet family and celebrate months of hard work.They both hated flying, so both the journey and the destination became a sacred tradition for Dave and Paula.
“It was an incredible personal and professional life. Our work was our passion. We loved our clients, and they loved us. We always felt that our office was a sanctuary; our clients felt like they could come in and visit about anything. We talked a lot more about issues that weren’t related to tax than we did about tax. Paula and I both felt like we helped a lot of people,” Dave said.
Dave originally treated his cancer in Houston with chemo only to have it return. He and Paula met with doctors at Rocky Mountain Oncology who recommended an aggressive protocol in order to permanently eradicate the cancer. Together, they were going to fight.
As Dave underwent grueling rounds of concurrent chemo and radiation, Paula became his champion. She was his support system in every way, including Dave’s outlook on his own treatment. This was critical, especially during those last few days. But Paula’s spirits remained high, and Dave was determined to complete radiation.
“She was a major factor in getting through those last rounds of radiation. She did everything for me, because I couldn’t,” Dave said.
But just a couple months later, Paula was diagnosed and began her own battle. Dave found himself in an even more difficult position than the one he thought might kill him.
“As a patient, you’re focused. You have a medical treatment, a plan that you and your doctors have made. You know what you’re supposed to be doing. But as a caregiver, everything is day-to-day. You’re only able to do so much. You’ve lost control,” Dave said.
As Paula’s condition worsened, Dave’s feeling of helplessness increased. There was little he could do for her; he felt he had no way to make her more comfortable or ease her pain. As an accountant, Dave was used to processes and logical solutions, but this was unlike any situation he had ever faced. So, he followed the example Paula had set as his caregiver.
“Paula was positive about my treatments. The only thing you can really control is your attitude, so I tried to be as positive as Paula was when she was taking care of me,” Dave said.
Despite their demeanor, the cancer returned and eventually Paula made the decision to discontinue treatments. And just as he did throughout her fight, Dave supported her completely. The couple was able to make one final trip to Sedona together in May before Paula passed July 4, 2014.
Dave considers his time with Paula 14 bonus years during which they were able to travel, read, worked on their home and run a business as partners. Together, they fought cancer and despite the difficulty of watching the person they loved more than anyone suffer, they cared for one another with energy and never admitting any doubt. It wasn’t until after Dave completed his treatments that Paula told him she didn’t think he would survive his final days of radiation.
When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, patients aren’t the only ones who need additional support during this time.
“Caregivers should look for support. You’re going through it, too,” Dave said.
Caregivers face something almost as fearful as cancer-a loss of control. Watching Paula suffer was more painful than his own illness, chemo and radiation. And while Dave faced the all too common bias that he wasn’t doing anything to help her, Paula’s care had a profound impact on Dave’s recovery.
By preparing his food, making sure he ate, driving him to and from treatments, bringing him books to read when he didn’t feel strong enough to walk and keeping a positive attitude, Paula provided Dave with unwavering love, support and comfort. While caregivers may not be able to ease the physical or sometimes even emotional pain of cancer, they can be motivation, encouragement and love. And knowing that support system was available not only in Paula, but also with his nurses, doctors, radiation techs and every other member of his cancer team was a major determinant in Dave’s recovery.
“I became very aware that I was receiving the best care possible, so it was comforting to know that Paula was getting the same,” Dave said.
As far as administering care, his advice is simple: “Be upbeat. All you can do is your best. It’s going to be difficult, so just be compassionate and provide the best care you can.”
So while a caregiver may not always feel like they’re doing enough, you are.
Dave grieves the loss of his wife, and he finds openly grieving healthy. But he also needs to keep living. Dave plans to continue running the business he shared with Paula. With five acres of land to maintain their country home, his work and a list of western history books to tackle, he stays busy, which brings him comfort.
When they first began their annual post-tax season holidays in Sedona, they took a different route each trip, based on scenery, traffic, landmarks and a host of other factors. Together, they explored and found the best of dozens of different possibilities. Eventually they discovered one particular path that had everything they were looking for, and Dave plans to make that journey again next May.