CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - When a mother loses her battle with cancer, fathers are often left unprepared to raise their families. Not only must they deal with their own grief and their children's, but without a lot of resources in the community, they must face the challenges of parenthood alone.
Bruce Ham knows all about the questions, the struggles and the regrets of losing a wife to cancer.
"Lisa was the foundation," Ham said. "She was the glue that held us all together."
At 39, the mother of three died after a six-month battle with colon cancer.
"We spent so much time trying to be positive and trying to fight the disease that we did not spend as much time talking about what life would be like when she was gone," Ham explained.
Dr. Justin Yopp said it's one of the most important conversations a couple in this situation can have.
"It's so difficult and there are so many obstacles to making that happen, that we see it now as an area that's really ripe for intervention," said Yopp, clinical psychologist and associate professor, UNC Cancer Center.
That led Yopp and Dr. Donald Rosenstein to start a first-of-its-kind support group for widowed fathers.
"These men all describe a sense of being lost at sea initially," said Rosenstein, director of UNC Comprehensive Cancer Support Program, UNC Cancer Center. "They feel so badly for their kids after they've lost their mothers that they relax a lot of rules in the house."
From navigating the challenges of parenting to moving forward, singlefathersduetocancer.org is a lifeline for dads.
"You're going to make mistakes," Yopp explained. "Your kids are resilient [and] you're resilient, [so] you can get through those mistakes."
Three years after joining the group, Ham is doing the best he can.
"Life can be beautiful again," Ham said.
The group at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is working to get similar support groups set up at major cancer centers across the country.
As for Ham, he's gone on to write a book about his experience called, "Laughter, Braids and Tears."
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