June 3, 2014 at 9:09 am

Neal Rubin

What to say - and not say - when there's cancer in the house

Bob and Nancy Zakar of Dearborn are just back from France, where they clambered through a castle. (The Zakars)

There are things you learn to say when your wife has cancer, and things you learn not to.

“Where to, next?” That’s a good one, Bob Zakar will tell you.

But bringing up your own mortality? The old line about we’re-all-on-borrowed-time, I-could-die-driving-home-from-work-today?

“The difference is,” Nancy Zakar told him, “you don’t wake up every morning knowing how you’re going to die.”

So keep that one to yourself.

The Zakars live in Dearborn. He’s 63, she’s two years younger. They love golf and travel and their two grown daughters, and they’ve been married 37 years.

He owns a State Farm agency and has a 91-year-old father with a fractured pelvis.

She has cancer, again.

Whenever it is she’s going, she’s not doing it sedately. They just came back from France, and they’re figuring out how they can spend chunks of time Up North this summer between her tests and treatments.

Closer to home, they’re among the chairs of the Women’s Healthcare Classic, built around a pair of golf outings Monday.

Women will play in Grosse Ile and men in Dearborn, and between the golf and the hors d’ouevres at Dearborn Country Club, Bob Zakar will dispense a few quick lessons about what a spouse can do to be helpful when cancer invades a home.

Loved ones informed

The first time around for the Zakars, in 1995, Nancy had breast cancer. Three years ago, doctors found cancer in her bones.

It was in a lower lobe of her brain, too, but they chased that spot away. The spine and hips are the issues now, and the best hope is to control, not cure.

Ask Bob how she’s doing and he’ll give you as much detail as you like. That’s one of the things he has learned: The better your friends and family are informed, the less awkward they feel about staying in touch and the more willing they are to help.

Here’s something else experience has taught him:

Keep dreaming.

“Where do you want to take your next trip six months from now?” he says. “How about a year from now? We’re always trying to plan something new and exciting and different for her.”

It’s not about spending money or filling in squares on a bucket list. If you can’t afford a vacation, plan a dinner.

“It’s really about controlling, as much as you can, the environment you’re in,” he says. “The day you stop dreaming is the day you stop living.”

His parents have been married for 65 years. They’ve seen some of their grandkids get married.

Nancy won’t, and Bob accepts that. But their older daughter will marry in November, and maybe Nancy will someday greet a grandchild — and next May, she’ll tour the Netherlands.

Fundraiser thinks pink

The Zakars like the Women’s Healthcare Classic because it’s grassroots, paying for things like wigs, mammograms and transportation to medical appointments.

Across 21 years, it has raised $5.4 million for breast cancer patients in the Oakwood hospital system, and it gets bigger and pinker every spring.

Bob (“The Bachelor”) Guiney, a Riverview native, will patrol Grosse Ile Golf & CC in a pink golf cart, handing out pink roses.

Dolores Pfeffer of Grosse Ile, also a co-chair, leads a team that will tie pink bows to trees, buildings and even portable toilets.

Bob Zakar will stop short of driving pink golf balls, but he has pink ribbons on all his golf caps and uses pink tees. A few rounds ago, a partner told him, “Don’t think I didn’t notice.”

He and Nancy first noticed one another at Western Michigan University. As she likes to tell people, “Bob always had great parties,” and she came to one with his younger sister.

More than four decades later, they’re still laughing.

Worrying, too, and hurting, but enjoying every moment they can, and planning for more.

nrubin@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-1874
@nealrubin_dn

Bob Guiney (Mike Coppola / Getty Images)