This November is cancer caregiver awareness month, and Nene Leakes, 51, an outspoken cast member of Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Atlanta,” and her husband Gregg, who is recovering after his battle with colon cancer, say that taking care of yourself is extremely important when you’re taking care of someone else.
“Take care of yourself, because I didn’t do that. I didn’t take time out for myself,” Nene said a new IGTV Instagram video of the couple talking about their journey during Gregg’s cancer battle.Read More
In the video, Nene talked a little bit about her emotional state when she was caring for Gregg during cancer. “Being a caregiver has got to be one of the hardest jobs. It’s hard. I don’t know if there is a right or wrong way to do it, but I was very stressed out,” she said.
And Gregg talked about his priorities after he learned his diagnosis. “I prayed, and I wrote my letter of goodbye to my wife,” he said.
Colon Cancer Caregiver -- Nene Leakes' Journey
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He also talked about needing an outlet for negative emotions, and the need they both felt to be embraced during the journey, “People need to know that there is a source or an outlet for support. That’s more important than anything when you’re going through or dealing with cancer, or you’re a caregiver,” said Gregg.
“I would say to couples that you’re going to experience roller coaster rides that you can’t even imagine, and you’ll get through it,” he added. “There will be days when you just don’t really care for each other much at all. It’s okay. There’s are gonna be days that you do care.”
Nene also said that after cancer, she started to feel a sense of gratitude, that led to appreciate some of the details in life she didn’t before. “He never liked to celebrate his birthday. I said ‘now, you’re going to celebrate your birthday, right?’ You know because it’s such a blessing to be alive. So I feel like both of us probably look through life through a whole new lens. Like, you know how people say things like ‘life is so precious?’ No, life is so precious. You don’t really get it, no, it’s precious.”
And Gregg celebrated his recovery from the disease, while talking about his newfound perspective as well, “A year later almost to the date, I’m cancer free. More importantly, I understand that my role for being on earth is that I’m a servant. That being the case, cancer that I had was no longer for me. The cancer walk I took was for others. And that’s why it’s so important to be there for somebody else, methodically.”
Gregg’s cancer journey
Gregg’s cancer journey began when he decided to get tested for colon cancer after initially rebuffing his wife’s pleas that he get tested. A frustrated Nene publicly confronted Gregg about failing to get screened, and he admitted his mistake.
Eventually Gregg did get screened.
Once he learned about his cancer, Gregg also admitted to ignoring doctors’ orders to undergo chemotherapy and instead opted for alternative, holistic treatments which have no proven benefits. Under pressure from his loving wife, he did ultimately undergo chemotherapy treatment, which resulted in his remission.
Information about screening for colon cancer
Nene’s frustration with Gregg was justifiable. One of the most important factors in the success of colon cancer treatment is catching the disease early, and the best way to catch colon cancer early is to get routine colonoscopy screening beginning at age 45, and then every ten years. Still, a lot of men, and especially African American men, don’t want to get screened, according to Dr. Zuri Murrell, Colorectal Surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Dr. Murrell has not commented on Nene and Gregg’s story directly, but has spoken to SurvivorNet on screening for colorectal cancer in the past.
“A lot of times, I have to initiate the conversation,” says Dr. Murrell. “I say, ‘Hey, I’m glad you’re here. Why are you here?’ ‘Well, you know, my wife wanted me to come.’ So, I just say, you know, ‘What’s going on? Have you had a colonoscopy?'”
And after conversation has begun, patients often remain obstinate. “Sometimes they’ll say, ‘Oh, no. I don’t want, you know, I don’t want a colonoscopy.’ And I just sit there and actually tell them, you know, ‘Why not?’ ‘Well, I don’t want anybody sticking things in my bottom.'”
So Dr. Murrell tries to comfort them by explaining the process. “I have to tell them, ‘Look, when you do a colonoscopy, number one, you’re under anesthesia. You feel nothing, okay. You go to sleep, you wake up, and I tell you that everything’s fine, or that we had a polyp, and it was removed. But there is no pain involved in this.'”
And, he admits, by telling them that their family needs them. “And then I talk to them, and this is really what I think gets them is that, ‘Well, if you don’t wanna do it for yourself, do you love your wife? Do you love your kids?’ I’ve not yet met one person who said no to any of those questions. Okay. I say, ‘If you don’t do it for you, you do it your family.'”
Information about stage three colon cancer
Chemotherapy is an important part of treatment for stage three colon cancer, largely because stage three means that the cancer has spread to the nearby lymph nodes, according to Dr. Paul Oberstein, Medical Oncologist at NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center. “In colon cancer, we now know that if tumor cells have reached the lymph nodes, they may be hiding in other parts of the body, too,” says Dr. Oberstein. “Although they may be too small to be seen, they can cause the cancer to come back. Because of that risk of recurrence, anyone with a tumor in their lymph nodes is recommended to undergo chemotherapy after surgery.”
Chemo lasts three to six months and is a combination of several medications that clinical trials have shown to do the best job of preventing the cancer from coming back. The most common combination is called FOLFOX, which is an acronym for three different medications that are given together: 5-fluorouracil/5-FU, leucovorin and oxaliplatin.
These medications are usually given through an IV which means you’ll be hooked to an IV pole in the doctor’s office every couple of weeks. There can be side effects to FOLFOX in some people such as low white blood cell count, diarrhea and numbness in the fingers and toes, but this combination is safe for most patients.
Gregg and Nene’s relationship during cancer
Gregg and Nene were very public about the fact that Gregg’s cancer took a major toll on what was already a very difficult relationship. In an interview after he was diagnosed, Nene said “Gregg is not a walk in the park,” Nene told host Andy Cohen as a cowed Gregg sat by her side. “Not even if he didn’t have cancer, he is not a walk in the park,” NeNe said. “Our relationship is not great. It really put a strain on us.”
And Nene seemed to start enjoying their relationship a little more too. “We’re doing good. We hope to be doing great, but we’re doing good,” NeNe said at the time.
They even used some therapy to move past their differences. “We actually stepped into a therapy for the cancer — a therapist,” NeNe said, and noted that “it’s been really helpful” because they’ve been “through a lot.” Elaborating on that, NeNe explained, “Gregg was absent from our marriage for almost a year, so it was a lot.”