Iowa author wrote the book she needed to read after husband’s diagnosis

Published: April 5 2014 | 6:00 am - Updated: 7 April 2014 | 3:13 pm in

When Mary Potter Kenyon’s husband David was diagnosed with oral cancer in June of 2006, her first instinct was to head to the library and pick up a book about being a caregiver to a loved one going through cancer treatments.

But Potter Kenyon, of Manchester, found time and again that most of the books for caregivers didn’t have happy endings.

“If the person battling cancer died at the end of the book, I put it right back on the shelf. I couldn’t bear to face that possibility and wondered why there weren’t more books written by caregivers whose loved one had survived.”

“I wanted to be the best caregiver I could be,” she says.

But there weren’t any books out there that could help Potter Kenyon.

So the author who tends to “write her way through things”, began journaling as she cared for her ill husband.

“I was holding his hand and writing with my other,” she says.

Soon she realized she was writing the book she’d been seeking on the library shelves.

This month — which is also oral cancer awareness month — Potter Kenyon’s new book “Chemo-Therapist: How Cancer Cured a Marriage” is released, and she hopes sharing their journey through cancer will inspire others.

Her husband David, Potter Kenyon says, faced his cancer diagnosis differently that she did.

“He didn’t want to know the statistics,” she recalls. “He wanted to face it as it came. In that sense, I ended up worrying about things that never even happened.”

David was diagnosed with stage four oral cancer after tumor was found at the base of his tongue. Potter Kenyon says he is just one of 42,000 Americans diagnosed with oral cancer each year. He didn’t have any symptoms, just simply noticed a lump while shaving one morning.

He went through surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and a clinical trial. Potter Kenyon was at her husband’s side the whole time and is quick to point out in her book that he did not die from his cancer.

“When you say in sickness and in health, you don’t imagine it will come to this,” she says. “But by caring for him I was putting him first. Our eight kids had been first for a long time.”

Her husband’s battle with cancer actually seemed to strengthen their spousal bond.

“I learned that something very good can come from something very bad. And I learned that any of us can do things we never imagined doing when we see someone face a life threatening illness.”

The experience may have made their relationship stronger, but that doesn’t mean it was an easy journey. Caregiving is demanding and exhausting.

“I really got angry when those who had been down the caregiving road before me admonished me to make sure I ‘took care of myself,’” she recalls. “I didn’t know how I would be able to do that when I had young children and a house to take care of, besides caring for my husband.”

She now knows it was sound advice that she shares with others.

“Find someone they can trust to take over for them for even an hour or two a week, or a way to nurture themselves — with bubble baths, a new haircut, daily walks, whatever. We have to take care of ourselves in order to take care of our loved one.”

Her new book is a testament to their relationship.

“When I write and speak about the topics of marriage, cancer and caregiving, I feel as though he is right here, at my side,” she says.


  • What: Mary Potter Kenyon will sign “Chemo-Therapist: How Cancer Cured a Marriage”
  • When: 1 p.m. April 12
  • Where: Barnes & Noble Cedar Rapids, 4444 Collins Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids

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