Fran Schuller: a caregiver’s journey
Fran Schuller is far more familiar with cancer than she wishes to be. Two of her three children have been diagnosed, and over the past few decades, cancer has claimed the lives of her three sisters, two sisters-in-law, a brother-in-law, and a nephew. Fortunately, at 73, Fran is healthy and more than willing to devote her time and energy to caregiving.
“It’s a terrible thing to say, but my family is full of cancer. We really have had so much loss,” she shared from her Edmonton home.
When Fran and Paul’s younger son Matthew was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma 18 years ago at age 24, he was unmarried and living at home. Although Fran was working at the time, she stepped up as his primary caregiver and played a significant role in the months of advocacy and decision-making the family endured. Thankfully, Matthew survived and is currently a healthy 42-year-old.
Then, in November 2020, amid the pandemic, the Schullers suffered another blow when their 43-year-old son Karl was diagnosed with glioblastoma.
“Karl is married with two teenage sons. When he was diagnosed the prognosis was terrible – eight to 12 months, so the fact that it’s been two years has been a blessing,” said Fran. “I’m so grateful that I live just a seven-minute drive away so I can do my best to support them.”
Fran is not Karl’s primary caregiver, that job falls to his wife Laura, who has been working full-time and doing her best to manage the stress of illness, while keeping things on track with their two boys.
“I do all I can do to help Karl and the family … I’m grateful to be retired so I can be there when needed. I take Karl to some appointments, do errands together, help drive the kids to their various activities, and provide some meals. You just keep going; do what you can do,” said Fran.
When Fran discovered Wellspring, she found great relief for her mounting stress and anxiety.
“I don’t know where I’d be without Wellspring. I’ve suffered with a lot of anxiety throughout my life, but joining the iRest program helped me remember to sit and breathe when I’m getting anxious. I love Trudy’s Living Well with Cancer program – everybody needs this program, so calming and inspiring. I also get regular calls from a Peer Support volunteer who is unbelievably wonderful. Wellspring is a Godsend,” she said.
Having suffered so much loss, Fran has advice for others who are supporting a loved one who is dying.
“When you go through this experience with a loved one it’s important to spend as much time with them as you can. Follow your heart and theirs. Love openly and unconditionally. Have no regrets,” said Fran.
Fran will spend all the time she can with Karl, while supporting his wife and his boys. Some of this time is spent watching the boys play soccer – a source of great joy for Karl who manages to attend every game.
“As a caregiver, you get strength you didn’t know you had. Sometimes you might appear stoic but inside you are broken. You have to be strong. Some days are easier than others,” said Fran.
Although sadness is very much at the surface, Fran digs deep to uncover moments of joy and even humour with her son and his family. She has courted loss and grief many times in her life, and she knows that love and joy are the nuggets she needs to hold on to.