Lifting caregivers' burden

Published May 8, 2007

Bonita Hall and her husband, Tim, had spent the last few weeks picking up donated material for their rummage sale, and she was disappointed by how much of it was junk.

But all that changed as people stopped by to browse at King of Kings Lutheran Church in Port Richey on Saturday. As they learned why Bonita was having the sale, they shared their own stories: the lady whose daughter had leukemia; the brother who was caring for his cancer-stricken wife. It was confirmation for Bonita that her heart was in the right place.

The medical establishment does an amazing job of caring for people with cancer. Organizations like the American Cancer Society focus almost exclusively on the patient. But the caregiver, the spouse or family member who must take the same journey, is often overlooked.

"There must be tangible things that people can do to help, " said Bonita, whose husband endured an 18-month bout with cancer of the tonsils. "I was so tired; I was so guilty; I was so angry."

We often hear how a catastrophic illness destroys a family. This is about how a spouse's cancer gave one person's life new meaning.

Working out of her home in Hudson, Bonita has set up the fledgling nonprofit, For the Cancer Cargegivers Alliance Inc. Her goal is to find small but tangible ways help the people who must be cheerleaders for their ailing loved ones. Like donating a Barnes & Noble or Books-a-Million gift card to buy books for spouses to read during the long hours they spend in clinic waiting rooms. Or gas cards to help pay for fuel for the daily trips to H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

"It helps to lift the burden a little bit, " Bonita said.

She knows. In November 2005, Tim, owner of Tim Hall Treeworks, went to the emergency room to have a troublesome lump on his neck checked. It was advanced cancer.

"Everything stopped, " said Bonita, who was forced to drop out of Pasco-Hernando Community College to help care for Tim. "It became all about the cancer. It was all about him."

The ensuing year and a half were consumed with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and doctor visits. Their three children, Jessica, 13, Kyle, 14, and Danielle, 17, were essentially left to fend for themselves. A teacher at school even called to check to make sure everything was okay at home. It wasn't.

With Tim unable to work, their savings disappeared. The bills piled up and the Halls fell behind on their mortgage. Through all that, Bonita felt as if she was on her own.

"I would get in the car and drive to Wal-Mart so I could sit in the car and cry, " she said.

The bank had started foreclosure proceedings on their house when they were rescued by a $6, 000 donation from the Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative's Operation Round-up charity last year.

Normalcy has since returned to the Hall household. Tim's last treatment was in March, and he's slowly trying to revive his business. With her husband doing better and her kids thriving in school, Bonita spends a lot of her time on her laptop and getting out the word to cancer caregivers. She has already shared her vision with members of the Withlacoochee River Electric Co-op. Others are going to want to hear her. They'll benefit from her searing experience.

For information visit www.forthecancercaregiver.org.

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is askerritt@sptimes.com