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From Both Sides of the Bedside

On our wedding day five and a half years ago, my husband Matt and I stood in front of our family and friends and declared “in sickness and in health we would love and honor each other all the days of our lives.” Like most couples we hoped that part of our vows would be tested later on in life, but just two years later we were faced with the fight our lives with when I was diagnosed with Stage 2B cervical cancer.

My husband was immediately thrust into the role of caretaker, taking the lead in processing information from the doctors, maintaining our home, taking me to my treatments, and disseminating all pertinent information about my situation to loved ones. All while continuing to work at his very demanding job. His most important responsibility, though, evolved into being the glue that kept me together every day. He was the one I would turn to in my darkest moments to tell me everything would be okay and that I would come out the other side of this. He rarely wavered or admitted he was scared. He was my flight attendant through the turbulence, the one I looked to when things got rocky to stay calm. He was everything that I could not be.

During my treatments and all the glorious side effects I experienced, Matt was right there. He never shied away from a needle or a trip to the bathroom when I needed assistance. He never made me feel self-conscious as the treatments ravaged my body, turning my insides out. Rather, he would consistently tell me I was beautiful. The night we shaved my head in anticipation of my hair falling out, he declared in the most genuine way, “You look so cute!” I was at my most vulnerable with Matt, and his love was unconditional. I learned to lean on him and be comfortable with the dependency.

Volunteering with the National Kidney Walk just two weeks before Matt’s transplant.

Two years after my last treatment concluded, Matt’s kidneys started showing signs of failure and his doctors recommended a kidney transplant. In a selfless act of love, Matt’s sister agreed to be the donor and we scheduled transplant for November 6. Leading up to the transplant, Matt remained calm and steadfast. He submerged himself in the logistics of it to cope with the anxiety. I, on the other hand, struggled to be the same. I was extremely anxious and instead of being the rock that Matt was for me when I was sick, I was slowly falling apart. It was as if my wounds from being sick were being ripped open again. I was angry that we had to embark on yet another scary journey, and I worried I couldn’t be as good of a caretaker as he was for me. When I shared this with Matt, he assured me he would be fine, I could handle it, and that I was strong.

I realized in that moment, it was no longer about my anxiety and me. I had to take Matt’s lead and be the caretaker he needed to get him through – calm, cool, and collected. I was no longer the patient; our roles were officially reversed. I needed to be his flight attendant and handle it all like he confidently knew I could. From then on, I focused on being a pillar of strength and I let him guide us through this experience in the way that made him feel the most comfortable. I often say that after cancer I feel like I am made of steel. Sometimes that steel melts a bit, but in this moment,  it had to solidify.

Matt’s kidney transplant was a success, but recovery was incredibly intense both physically and emotionally. His post-transplant needs were even more demanding than mine were during treatment, and his spirits were put to the test. Matt needed me to help him with all aspects of his day – his medications, eating and drinking, bathing, sleeping, walking, pain management, etc. Not to mention taking his blood pressure, temperature, and tracking his urine output. However, I can say with complete confidence that because of my cancer we were prepared for all of it. I learned quickly how to anticipate Matt’s needs, to push him when he needed a nudge, to cheer him up when he was down, to listen to his fears, to cry with him, and to love him unconditionally through every single vulnerable moment. I learned from the best, and we quickly found ourselves back into a groove of being caretaker and patient. We relied once again on our friendship and strong foundation.

Leaving the hospital after Matt’s transplant.

Being a cancer survivor has shaped who I am as a caretaker because I understand how being so highly dependent on someone can chip away at your dignity. Even if your caretaker is a loved one, a parent, a sibling, a best friend – when you can’t even go to the bathroom by yourself, you are vulnerable in ways you never thought imaginable. This is something I remind myself of when care taking for my husband and am sensitive to. I constantly put myself in his shoes, and believe I am a better caretaker for it.

Five years after promising “in sickness and in health,” Matt and I are more solid than ever. We’ve been to war together, now twice, and have come out the other side. We’ve both played the role of the patient and the role of the caretaker. Neither is easy, but being a caretaker is by far more difficult. It’s difficult to see your loved one suffer, and I have grown an even deeper appreciation for Matt’s strength during my battle. But when you’ve got a strong foundation and you learn to be what your loved one needs you to be, the rest falls into place.

To all caretakers out there, you got this. You’re stronger than you think, and your loved one appreciates you every minute of every day.

Kate Weissman is a two-year Stage 2B cervical cancer survivor and now a Cervivor Ambassador serving as an advocate for the cervical cancer community. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts with her husband Matt and fur baby Giada, and is a proud aunt to five nephews and one niece. She is a Public Relations Account Director by day, and an avid food enthusiast by night. 

 

Finding My Cervivor Voice

It is day one of Cervivor School. I look around the room at 25 women who have all had the same diagnosis; cervical cancer. It feels like a family, but do I belong in this family? I mean, sure I was diagnosed with cervical cancer too; but mine was found early. I was easily treated with a hysterectomy. I didn’t endure chemotherapy or radiation. I haven’t gone into early menopause. I was lucky to have children before I had my fertility taken from me. This is a room of survivors. Women who have been through or are going through the real battle. Women who have lost their hair. Women who will never be able to have children. Women who are going into menopause in their 20’s. Do I belong in this room, with these women who I look at as warriors? I am no warrior. I was one of the lucky ones. This is not my place. I feel like a fraud.

Tamika, the founder of Cervivor, shows us women who have been in this room before us, some who were supposed to be here today; but cannot be because they are no longer with us. It brings me to tears. She tells us her story and it is heartbreaking. Tamika talks about our stories, and how every single one matters. We have all been through a cervical cancer diagnosis. We have all had different treatments. We have all made it to this room. She asks if anyone feels like they don’t belong here. I feel like I should raise my hand, but I don’t. I don’t want to call attention to the fact that I haven’t been through what all these women have been through. Maybe I can make it through the weekend without anyone figuring me out.

Now we take a break and reflect on what has just been said. We break into groups of four. I timidly walk around the room to find a group that doesn’t have four yet. I find a group with two women who are older than me and one much younger. I will let them do all the talking. Their stories matter, not mine. One of the older women starts to tell her story. It sounds familiar. Abnormal Pap, cervical cancer, hysterectomy, recovery. Wait, what? That is my story. The other woman begins to tell her story and again, it sounds familiar. Abnormal Pap, cervical cancer, hysterectomy, recovery. This can’t be right? These women’s stories are too similar to mine. And yet, as each of them tell their stories I feel connected. My heart breaks as they talk about being diagnosed. As they talk about all the time waiting between appointments, and all of the unknowns. These are all of the things that I went through. The pains and anxiety that I went through. The same surgeries that I went through, and the same guilt that I carry with me, as I feel unworthy of being called a survivor. Then there is the younger woman sitting across from me, I know her story is not like ours. I was with her the day before as she took off her wig and revealed her short hair that is growing back from her last rounds of chemotherapy. I do not know her story, but I know that it is not like mine. But here she is, sitting with the three of us. Listening to our stories and encouraging us to tell them. Asking questions about what we have been through and relating. She doesn’t tell us her story, and focuses on us. She is understanding and informative. She is passionate about what we have to say. I begin to feel like maybe I do belong here. Maybe this corner of the room with these 3 other women is exactly where I am supposed to be. Maybe this is precisely what I have been looking for over the last two years. Maybe my story is important, and powerful. Maybe my story can touch people’s hearts the same way these women’s stories just touched mine. And now our time is up. I walk back to my seat and a feeling of relief washes over me. I know that a shift has just been made. Something inside me has changed in these last 20 minutes with these 3 women.

Laura, the young woman who was just in our group walks to the front of the room to present her story to us. She is in her early 20’s. She is vibrant, and her smile lights up the room. Her story begins the same as many of ours. Cervical cancer, chemotherapy, radiation, no evidence of disease. But then her story changes. Recurrence, chemotherapy, terminal. My heart sinks. This woman is standing in front of us fighting a cancer that she knows is going to kill her. And I think, “What is her message to me?” That my fight is not as hard as hers? That I don’t belong here because I didn’t have to go through chemotherapy or radiation? No. Her message is that I need to tell my story. The world needs to hear my story. No one should have to die from this cancer, and the way to help make sure that happens is through my story. I do belong here in this room with these warriors, with these survivors. Not as an outsider, but as one of them. Chemotherapy and radiation are not what makes us a survivor. Cancer is what makes us a survivor. The fraud that was sitting in this same chair 20 minutes ago is gone. I am now sitting here as a Cervivor with a story to tell.

Keziah Corry is a 2-year Cervical Cancer Survivor. She lives in Seattle WA, with her incredibly handsome husband, two of the cutest kids the world has to offer and her sweet little pug. She spends most of her free time, with her feet in the sand and a glass of wine in her hand.  Read Keziah’s Cervivor story here.