Susan Hill and her husband, Bruce, had always been very active. When her healthy husband found it difficult to keep up with their kids on a hiking trip, Susan suggested he see a doctor.
An ultrasound and a CT scan revealed that Bruce had a mass on his right kidney and small nodes on his lungs. Surgery quickly followed to remove one of Bruce’s kidneys and Susan immediately stepped in as his caregiver, learning how to juggle the diagnosis and caring for her family at the same time.
“There’s not much I can do for cancer, but I can do things like focus on exercise, diet, and mental health – keeping him cheered up,” she said.
In addition to a positive outlook, Susan said overcoming the fear of having difficult conversations and making time to talk about the future early on was a big help.
“I started purging our house and, honestly, part of my motivation was not doing it by myself someday,” Susan said.
“This forced the issue of talking about things like accounts, housework, and bills. What if something happens sooner than later? I had my own ideas about what retirement and aging would be like. We sat down and talked about everything. It was not scary and it was a relief to have that done. Our relationship got stronger. We realized life is about ‘less junk, more journey.’”
Susan and Bruce take advantage of where the many doctor’s appointments are and try a new hiking trail or museum as a way to take the focus off of the appointment.
Susan also made it her goal to learn as much as possible during appointments.
“Part of [being a caregiver] is making sure I understand what’s going on. I can ask questions of the oncologist,” Susan said. It was important to work as a team with Bruce and his doctors, which helps Susan support him.
The Hills have also gathered an unofficial support group online as they shared highlights of Bruce’s progress on Instagram to keep family, friends, and coworkers updated throughout this experience.
“I treat Instagram like a diary,” Susan said. “And a big part of why we’re so open about it is we want our friends to know that they should be looking out for symptoms. You have to go to the doctor, do blood work, and be your own advocates.”
Susan and Bruce Hill are both members of the KCA’s Patient and Caregiver Advisory Council.