Losing a Loved One to Cancer
- Real Housewives of Atlanta star Nene Leakes lost her husband, Gregg Leakes, to colon cancer in September 2021. Still coping with the tragic loss, she recently made a post to commemorate her late husband’s birthday.
- Losing a spouse to cancer can cause immeasurable pain, but it’s important to try to have uncomfortable conversations with your loved one – if they’re open to it – during their cancer battle.
- The term colorectal cancer is used to describe cancers that begin in the colon or the rectum – so some people just use the term colon cancer if that’s where the disease began. The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that colorectal cancer screenings begin at age 45, but if you have concerns about your risk you should talk to your doctor.
Nene lost her husband, Gregg Leakes, to colorectal cancer last year when he was 66. Still, she made sure to make a heartfelt post for her late partner’s birthday just a couple days ago.
Read MoreView this post on Instagram
“Missing the man that always had a plan!” she wrote under a sweet picture of the couple. “Today is a tuff one…every year on this date we would be out celebrating you! I can’t believe we are wishing you a heavenly Birthday today. I feel like you went somewhere and you’ll be back.”
She ended her post adding that she missed him “everyday.”
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY,” she wrote. “WE LOVE YOU SO MUCH”
Nene Leakes Loses Gregg to Cancer
Nene and Gregg Leakes first married is 1997, but divorced briefly in September 2011. They remarried on Real Housewives of Atlanta in June 2013.
But the couple struggled a few years later when Gregg was first diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in 2018 after finally getting a colonoscopy at the urging of his wife. Nene even considered getting another divorce due to his attitude towards her while going through chemotherapy, but she ultimately decided to stick by his side.
Thanks to an aggressive treatment plan, Gregg was able to appear alongside his wife on The Wendy Williams Show in September 2019 where he announced he was cancer-free.
Sadly, however, his health took a turn for the worst and Nene shared that Gregg had been diagnosed with the disease for the second time in June of last year. He ultimately passed on Sept. 1, 2021, after a hard-fought battle with the disease.
But Nene has worked on moving forward since the loss of her husband. In December 2021, Nene confirmed rumors of her first boyfriend, fashion designer Nyonisela Sioh, since losing her husband, and a later interview with an unidentified source said she was “absolutely open to marriage again.”
“Despite losing Gregg last year, she is really happy and in a great place as she begins starting this next chapter of her life,” the insider told PEOPLE.
In an interview with The Shade Room, Nene shared details of the hard conversation Gregg had with her before his death about moving on after his passing.
“I will love Gregg forever & ever! Grieving is hard! Even harder & depressing alone,” Nene said. “Gregg and I had a very tearful conversation before his passing. His words to me were, ‘Be happy, keep smiling and he who finds you, has found a good one.’”
Losing a Spouse to Cancer
Losing a loved one to cancer can cause immeasurable pain – as Nene can surely attest to. And while it’s difficult to imagine life without someone like your significant other, it can be important to have difficult conversations with your loved one in advance if both parties are willing to talk.
John Duberstein can attest to the importance of these conversations. After losing his wife, writer Nina Riggs, to metastatic triple negative breast cancer, he told SurvivorNet all he wished for while she was suffering was for things to go back to the way they were – but Nina had already accepted her new normal.
“I really wanted things to go back to normal, whatever that meant,” John said. “She was not for that. She wanted to embrace the existence that she had, even before she knew she was going to die imminently. I did not want to talk about what was going to happen with me after Nina died. Nina is the one that really brought it up, she brought it up a number of times. She wanted to make sure that I knew that it was OK … she really wanted me to have another relationship after she was gone.”
John said that even with the pain of losing Nina, and even though he didn’t want to talk about it at the time, he’s so glad that his wife started those seemingly uncomfortable conversations.
“In retrospect, I can’t even explain how glad I am that I had that,” John said. “And I think, across the board, the people who have had those conversations who I know who have lost a spouse are immeasurably glad that they did.”
There’s definitely no one way to cope with the loss of a spouse, but Doug Wendt shared his thoughts on grief in a previous interview with SurvivorNet after losing his wife, Alice, to ovarian cancer.
“We’re never gonna move on, I don’t even think I want to move on, but I do want to move forward,” Wendt said. “That’s an important distinction, and I encourage anybody who goes through this journey as a caregiver and then has to face loss, to think very carefully about how to move forward.”
Understanding Colorectal Cancer
The term colorectal cancer is used to describe cancers that begin in the colon or the rectum – so some people just use the term colon cancer if that’s where the disease began.
Colorectal cancer, like all cancers, presents its own unique challenges for patients on the road to recovery. But Dr. Heather Yeo, a surgical oncologist and colorectal surgeon at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center, wants to remind people how far the treatment of this disease has come.
“One of the most exciting things about my job is that we’ve made a lot of progress on treatment options,” Dr. Yeo says in a previous interview with SurvivorNet. “However, patients are still — while they’re living longer, they are still living with colon cancer, and so I think it’s really important that we talk about how some of the things in your life affect you.”
Colorectal cancer might not immediately cause symptoms, but these are possible symptoms to look out for:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
- Blood in the stool, which might make the stool look dark brown or black
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
It is important to note, however, that displaying some of these symptoms does not mean you have colorectal cancer. You could also have colorectal cancer and not display any of these symptoms. Regardless, it is important to bring up any symptoms to your doctor should they arise.
Dr. Yeo also emphasizes the importance of colorectal cancer screenings such as colonoscopies because most colorectal cancers can be prevented early with screening.
“In the United States, on a national level, colorectal cancer has been decreasing for the last 20 years,” Dr. Yeo says. “And much of that is thought to be directly due to screening for colon cancer.”
Even still, colorectal cancer cases are rising among younger people. And in the United States alone, rates have increased every year from 2011 to 2016 by 2 percent among people younger than 50. Because of this increase, the United States Preventive Services Task Force has recently updated its colorectal cancer screening recommendations to begin at age 45 instead of 50.
“We know that colon cancers can be prevented when polyps are found early,” Dr. Yeo said. “Lowering the screening age helps somewhat with this. But access to care is a real problem.”
And increasing access is crucial to making sure that we don’t see racial disparities within the world of colorectal cancer. Whites and Asians are significantly more likely to be up to date with their colonoscopies than African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans.
Research suggests that tailoring colorectal cancer screenings to each person’s individual risk may be beneficial. If you are not yet 45 but have concerns about your risk, talk to your doctor. Ask about your individual risk based on your lifestyle and family history and find out when screenings would be right for you.