Health Team

Support group helps fathers made widowers by cancer

Posted February 23, 2011 5:30 p.m. EST
Updated February 23, 2011 6:29 p.m. EST

— Susan Owen was just 47 years old when lung cancer took her life last spring. She was one of the 15 percent of people with lung cancer not linked to tobacco.

Owen and her husband, Karl, did their best to prepare for the time when Karl would become a single parent to their 10-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter.

“We’re not single parents. We’re only parents. We’re on duty 24/7, unless we have family or close friends in the area. It all comes down to us,” Karl Owen said.

UNC Hospitals clinical psychologist Justin Yopp found there was very little research or resources available for young men made single fathers due to cancer. 

“At the same time that they are struggling with their own grief, they are also trying to shepherd their children through this difficult time,” Yopp said.

Because of his work with these families before the deaths of their wives, Yopp helped develop a support program for them that meets once a month.

“Knowing that the other guys are going through the same things that I am – that they're having some of the same reactions – makes me feel much less alone and much less isolated,” Karl Owen said.

Owen said his children have adjusted well, and they all share wonderful memories of Susan.

“This business of saying, ‘I'm going to work hard for 40 years and then enjoy myself during retirement.’ I’m really glad that my wife and I didn't decide to do that. Susan and I traveled a lot. We did the things we wanted to do,” he said.

Most of the fathers bring their children along to the support group. The children are supervised in a separate room and provided pizza, drinks and activities.

The support group started meeting last fall and currently serves six fathers.

The group meets the third Monday of each month from 6-7:30 p.m. at Carolina Pointe II, third floor.

The program is free and open to any father widowed by his wife’s cancer, but registration is required.

Anyone interested in registering for the program should call Yopp at 919-445-5415.