Singer Kimmie Rhodes had been married to legendary music producer Joe Gracey for 28 years when he died of metastatic esophageal cancer in November 2011. The couple met in 1979, after Joe completed treatment at MD Anderson for his first bout with cancer — which involved the complete removal of his tongue.
“I was actually married to a man who didn’t speak,” Kimmie says. “In a way, I became the voice he lost, but he could communicate very well without speaking.”
The couple married in 1982, and Joe reinvented himself as a record producer, while Kimmie kept performing. They enjoyed almost 30 years together before Joe’s cancer returned in the spring of 2008.
A long-time Austin resident, Kimmie had never heard of MD Anderson before meeting her husband. But once here, she learned a lot about being a caregiver to a cancer patient.
Here’s Kimmie’s advice for other caregivers.
1. Take care of yourself
The first thing Kimmie learned was the importance of taking care of herself.
“People caring for cancer patients can get hyper-focused, but you don’t have to let yourself be consumed by it,” Kimmie says. “Shift your attention and think about something else for a while. Ask for help if you need it. And have hope. That’s what MD Anderson is all about.”
2. Make plans
Kimmie maintained the couple’s quality of life by planning activities around town — both solo and together — while her husband was receiving treatment here.
“You don’t have to think about cancer all the time,” she says. “You can still have fun. So look around and find things that feed your soul. There are so many places around Houston to see and do interesting things. It has art galleries, science museums, restaurants and parks. In the spring, you can even tour homes with azaleas blooming.”
3. Express gratitude
For Kimmie, finding things to be thankful for every day was the key to maintaining an upbeat attitude. This philosophy even proved useful after her husband had died.
“The answer to grief is gratitude,” Kimmie says. “I lost Joe to cancer, but I don’t look at it as a failure. You can either be sorry for what you didn’t get to have, or thankful for what you did. I had Joe for 28 years, and we had a great life together.”
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