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Advances in health and medicine.
Marjorie Bekaert Thomas
Advances in health and medicine.
Cancer Channel
Reported June 5, 2014

Support for Single Fathers Due to Cancer

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – When a mother loses her battle to cancer, fathers are often left unprepared to raise their families.

Not only must they deal with their own grief and their children’s, but without a lot of resources in the community, they must face the challenges of parenthood alone.

Bruce Ham knows all about the questions, the struggles, and the regrets of losing a wife to cancer.

“Lisa was the foundation,” Ham told Ivanhoe. “She was the glue that held us all together.”

At 39, the mother-of-three died after a six-month battle with colon cancer.

“We spent so much time trying to be positive and trying to fight the disease that we did not spend as much time talking about what life would be like when she was gone,” Ham explained.

Dr. Justin Yopp says it’s one of the most important conversations a couple in this situation can have.

“It’s so difficult and there are so many obstacles to making that happen, that we see it now as an area that’s really ripe for intervention,” Justin Yopp, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, Associate Professor, UNC Lineberger Cancer Center, told Ivanhoe. 

That led Dr. Yopp and Dr. Donald Rosenstein to start a first-of-its-kind support group for widowed fathers.

“These men all describe a sense of being lost at sea initially,” Donald Rosenstein, MD, Director of UNC Comprehensive Cancer Support Program, Dept. of Psychiatry and Medicine, UNC Lineberger Cancer Center, told Ivanhoe. “They feel so badly for their kids after they’ve lost their mothers that they relax a lot of rules in the house.”

From navigating the challenges of parenting to moving forward, is a lifeline for dads.

“You’re going to make mistakes,” Dr. Yopp explained. “Your kids are resilient [and] you’re resilient, [so] you can get through those mistakes.”

Three years after joining the group, Ham is doing the best he can.

“Life can be beautiful again,” Ham said.

The group at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is working to get similar support groups set up at major cancer centers across the country.

As for Ham, he’s gone on to write a book about his experience called, “Laughter, Braids and Tears.”

You can learn more about the book and the support group at

For additional research on this article, click here.

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If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Kim Groves at


Dr. Justin Yopp, PhD
UNC Lineberger Cancer Center

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