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Peter Rukavina wants to offer some insight and guidance to people facing a painful path, similar to the one he has traversed.
The Charlottetown resident has compiled a unique documentation of the five years his wife, Catherine Miller, lived with cancer before she finally succumbed to the disease on Jan. 16, 2020.
Following Catherine’s diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer – an incurable but treatable condition – Rukavina started an email newsletter to the couple’s family and friends to keep them informed of any and all developments.
He pounded the keyboard with regularity, offering great detail of Miller’s difficult journey.
By the time Miller died, Rukavina had written and emailed almost 50,000 words to people eager to learn the latest news on a woman he enjoyed a special relationship with for close to 30 years.
After re-reading the emails, Rukavina felt others could find comfort, insight and some guidance in all the information he had shared over five years. He decided to package it all together in a book called Using Her Marbles.
“If you are going to climb Mount Everest, it would be helpful to read a book by someone who has climbed Mount Everest even if it is not going to be the same for you,’’ he told The Guardian.
“It was,’’ he is quick to add, “a horrible Mount Everest and it was a horrible end.’’
Rukavina says a roller coaster ride is an excellent metaphor for the five years Miller lived with cancer – and the five years he and son Oliver hurt dearly in seeing Miller’s health deteriorate.
“In the same way that a rollercoaster is unrelenting, it was unrelenting,’’ he says.
Conversely, peaceful periods were precious. Rukavina even found opportunity at times to inject a little humour in the emails when appropriate.
Rukavina says he came to the realization, as he followed with intense attention all aspects of treatment Catherine received, that no one person was in charge of his wife’s overall care.
In one of the emails in the book, he offered the following insightful observation: “Another thing we learned today is that cancer treatment isn’t really like an orchestra being guided by a conductor, but rather more like a series of soloists each specialized in a certain approach to cancer, with the best one for the current treatment running the case at any given time.’’
Putting the book together has been a healing exercise for Rukavina.
He also found great benefit in enrolling in an eight-week grief support group.
“That was so helpful,’’ he says.
Rukivina’s advice to people faced with losing a loved one is to be very open.
“Talk about things all the time,’’ he says.
“Talking about the fact someone is going to die doesn’t make them die faster.’’