KAILUA-KONA — In her public life, Linda Coble was known as a trailblazing journalist and as the wife to one of Hawaii’s most well-known television news anchors, Kirk Matthews.
In her private life, Coble was facing the everyday challenges of being the caretaker of Matthews, who was battling stage four lung cancer.
At the Conference for Family Caregivers at the Sheraton Kona Resort on Thursday, Coble shared for the first time in public the highs and lows of the last few years of her life with Matthews.
“This isn’t my normal MO. It was a challenge and nerve wracking,” Coble said during her keynote speech at the conference. “And when it’s something this personal, the story, the experience, whatever you’re sharing, it’s tough to relive it. So I had just a hard time as writing as I did talking.
“I think it’s important to let people know that they are not alone. And I didn’t really think about my situation as something to share, but it felt good doing it.”
The conference was organized by the Hawaii Community Caregiver Network (HCCN) as a way for caregivers and their families to find resources to help them through their respective situations. Sessions were held on caregiving tips, building social support, overcoming isolation and stress reduction.
With first-hand experience as a caregiver, Coble was there to offer her advice as well.
“One of the interesting things about being a family caregiver is you’re either a full-time family caregiver or you’re holding down a full-time job,” said Roberta Wong Murray, an HCCN board member. “And we thought her perspective would be unique in seeing that you’ve got to manage to do everything.”
Coble and Matthews met as journalists at a news station in Portland, Oregon, before Coble convinced Matthews to move back to Hawaii with her, where she had previously worked at KGMB. Coble continued the rest of her long career as a journalist at KGMB, and was Hawaii’s first television news reporter and anchor.
Matthews was a news anchor for KHON2 from 1987 until, due to lung cancer, he retired in 2014.
During Matthews’ cancer battle, Coble accompanied him to doctor visits and chemotherapy treatments. In November 2015, when it was determined chemotherapy wasn’t going to save Matthews’ life, Coble took care of him from their home on Oahu.
Through it all, Coble and Matthews were still able to keep the smile on their faces.
“We would read, we would watch TV, I would get plate lunches,” Coble said. “We would make every chemo visit an event happening. It wasn’t just, ‘Oh sh-t, we have to go sit an drip and poke. It was fun. We laughed.”
Finding fun in a less than ideal situation was just one piece of advice Coble gave the conference attendees.
For those struggling with the mental pain and exhaustion that comes with being a caregiver, Coble reminded them to find an outside support system. Coble said organizations such as the Rotary Club helped her find a balance in life.
Coble said after Matthews retired in 2014, Coble had to spend time in the hospital after an ulcer ruptured in her stomach.
“It’s just bizarre, the changes physically. Be ready,” Coble said. “I had no clue I was in trouble physically because of my mental situation. And Kirk took care of me in the midst of that. You have to be ready to balance. I was always off-balance.”
Coble also suggested having a set plan in place for what to do after a loved one has passed away. She said the plan for Matthews’ body to be donated to the Willed Body program at University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine after his death relieved a lot of weight off her shoulders.
The final months of Matthews’ life was spent surrounded by family and friends, and Coble stressed the importance of celebrating the people and things that matter most.
“We didn’t ignore family milestones in the last few months, which is something I think was very helpful,” Coble said. “When we had our double wedding anniversary (with my sister and her husband), we all went out to dinner. No smoothies that day. We had a lot of martinis and steak, and all the fun.”
Matthews died on July 18, 2016, at the age of 69. Three years after her husband’s death, Coble said she still feels “off-balance.”
“I’m shaking right now. My knees shake. I continue to have too much evening wine. I’m going to go back to counseling because I don’t want to become an alcoholic. But that is my exit,” Coble said. “Don’t isolate yourself. And if you need help, seek it out. Don’t be ashamed. Continue to build your network of love and care.”
Coble said being a caregiver for a loved one is one of the best ways to get them through an illness. She said a caregiver provides something greater than medicine.
“Realize, as a caregiver, you have kept your loved one breathing in ways the doctor could not imagine,” Coble said. “It’s personal.”