By Christina Rice

Kenny Wilmes has been his wife, Donna’s, biggest encourager since she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer this past spring.

The Burlington Jct. couple researched facilities and chose to attend the SSM St. Francis Cancer Care Center in Maryville, becoming the center’s first patient.

Submitted by Kelli Wilmes (she sent it to me after you saved it) photo: Kenny and Donna Wilmes are surrounded by their children and grandchildren during the West Nodaway pink-out game, where Donna was honored. Those pictured are front: Pat O’Connell, Brady O’Connell, Kenna O’Connell, Eryn O’Connell; middle: Kenny with grandchild, Kacy O’Connell, Donna, Charlotte Wilmes; back: Stephen Wilmes, Kelli Wilmes, Madeline Wilmes, Ellie Wilmes and Andrew Wilmes.

Kenny reflected on when they first heard the news saying, “I felt uncertain, scared, wondered is it working? Did we go to the right place?”

The couple has been happy with their choice, stating the professionals have been “wonderful.” The center follows the same protocols as Mosaic and the Mayo Clinic and Donna stated that Dr. Rolando Breier had even personally called her at home to check on how she was doing.

“I can’t say enough good about the center. I’m so glad we went there,” Donna said.

Life with cancer

As Donna began treatments, she became weak and Kenny stepped up to care for her, taking on several tasks that he had not previously done such as gardening, canning beans, laundry, cooking, tending to flowers and other things.

“You just do what needs to be done. Anyone would do the same thing. Seeing her weak enough she can’t get out of the chair scares you,” Kenny said.

Donna stated Kenny has been to every appointment with her and always keeps her comfortable by keeping her supplied with liquids, warm blankets, fixing food and bringing it to her and keeping her company as she watches TV and rests.

“I’m doing things that I probably should have been doing 40 years ago. I wish I’d learned how to cook years ago,” Kenny said.

He has also taken on the responsibility of completing all the shopping and finances while completing farm chores and baling hay around Donna’s appointments.

“He’s done great. I am so appreciative. I know that’s what husbands and wives do, but not everybody does. He’s been a great encourager. I couldn’t have done this without him,” Donna stated.

Donna advocates that others need to take advantage of their wellness screenings, urging both male and females to not skip a year.

Care giving can take a toll and the couple wanted to express their gratitude for support from their friends in the community, neighbors, church members and family. Many people have stepped up to help, offering to take Donna to appointments, calling and checking on her or bringing food every week.

Tips for caregivers

Some tips that Kenny has for other caregivers is to be patient, stating you never know how the person is going to feel. He also said that time management played a big part in keeping everything running smoothly and that having a loose schedule really helped to get her to appointments and taking her in for emergency fluids when she was sick.

Kenny also encouraged caregivers to take some day trips once in awhile to “get away and clear your mind,” although he stated he would worry about Donna if he was away from her.

Caregivers need to be mindful of germs that the person comes into contact with. Kenny wipes the counters down often at home, keeps the fridge cleaned out, keeps the trash removed and sometimes they need to keep the grandchildren at bay when Donna’s white blood counts are low. The couple also hired someone to clean the house once a week, to help keep it safer for Donna and ease the duties of Kenny.

Donna stressed that caregivers need to be encouraging and remind their loved one that the battle is only short-term and that it helps if you have a good sense of humor. She said one of the best things you can do for your loved one is to just “be there.”

“They are going to feel terrible. You really don’t know what to expect until you are going through it yourself,” Kenny said.