With his latest book Hurdles: When Cancer Strikes a Family, longtime East Brunswick resident Michael Kesler, Ph.D., explores the journey his family took after his late wife Regina was diagnosed with breast cancer leading up to her death at the age of 43-years-old. With four young children, Kesler was soon left as a single father trying to pick up the pieces from the complete devastation cancer wrought on his home life.
"Initially, her first operation to remove a cyst was run of the mill, and the surgeon thought nothing of it," Kesler said. "Everything was going to be alright. Her lymph nodes were clean, so they said there was no need for further therapy of any kind. A year and a half later we lost her to cancer. It went all over her body. I basically collapsed. I was in complete shock. I had opened a business about the time she had the first operation, which was a stupid thing to do. I became very depressed and lost the business."
Kesler and Regina had originally arrived as students in the U.S. after spending years fleeing from the Nazis in World War II. They soon met, got married and began successful careers, him as a chemical engineer and she as a pediatrician.
Upon his wife's death, the family's finances were left in shambles, but that paled in comparison to the impact left on the couple's children from losing their mother. The book explores the aftermath of a loss so profound, as a grieving husband attempts to pick up the pieces for the good of his shellshocked children.
"I really saw this overwhelming need to take care of my children, but my wife decided to try and hide the illness from them," Kesler said. "They became very angry and I had my hands full with them after she died. I had to rearrange the whole household, move to another place and start life anew. I began to question how to communicate with active teens, which was very difficult for me. But we made it, my kids now have kids of their own. They haven't forgotten, but we don't live in the past."
Kesler said for any family waging the same battle against an illness like cancer, it's vital to mobilize resources and prepare for an extended fight.
"Readers of the book will become aware of the capriciousness and unpredictability of breast cancer," he said. "The surgeon who removed my late-wife’s breast cavalierly dismissed any need for further follow-up with chemotherapy or radiation. By contrast, a year and a half later, the radiologist viewing her x-rays concluded that she had, at most, six months to live. Well, she lived for another three and a half years."
The book also traces steps people can take to be better prepared to deal with the unpredictable course of the disease with input from contributor and behavioral psychologist Dr. Howard Paul.
"Among them is the admonition to communicate and bond with all members of the family," Kesler said. "My late wife and I mistakenly treated her illness as a secret and hid its news from our children, particularly the two younger boys. The boys, left to their own devices, sensed the crisis and predictably feared their mother’s demise much earlier than it actually happened. As a result, they became withdrawn and angry. That made my dire attempts to bond with them—to which I devoted several chapters in my book—much more difficult."
Ultimately, Kesler said it falls upon the husband of any woman fighting breast cancer to understand the fear and loneliness, and to make sure all of her needs are being met.
"It's important to understand the psychological, spiritual and emotional needs of an ill person," he said. "A few months before my wife's death, she woke up from a nightmare and told me she was walking on a long, lonely dirt road that led to a dark place. She was afraid and alone, and then burst into tears saying it's difficult to travel down that road by yourself. She asked me to embrace her. I keep that in my mind and I hope readers will understand the profound needs of an ill woman at that stage. She just needed some connections."Kesler has also rewritten and published his late wife’s book, Grit—A Pediatrician’s Odyssey From a Soviet Camp to Harvard, and wrote of his experiences during the Holocaust in Shards of War—Fleeing To & From Uzbekistan.
Hurdles: When Cancer Strikes a Family is available through the publisher’s website at http://sbprabooks.com/MichaelGKesler, at www.amazon.com or www.barnesandnoble.com.