In March of 2017 I was first introduced to Pat Gieringer, who would be my downstairs neighbor a few months later. She is a lively woman, full of powerful emotions, with an uplifting and soothing way about her. She also happens to be my sister’s best friend.
Pat and her husband Tom quickly became good friends of mine as we shared a deep understanding of life, the need for comfortable spaces to express frustrations, and the necessity of loving people unconditionally when they are in physical and mental pain. Pat became my rock and always looked for ways to help me heal and manage my migraines, while I served as a person to help her discover ways to ground herself and remain positive through the toughest of days.
They are two of the most caring people I’d ever encountered and in honor of National Cancer Survivor’s Day being celebrated today, June 2nd, I wanted to share their incredible story with you.
It’s a story of charismatic love, fighting for one another, and learning how to live a life worth living despite the circumstances.
Thomas and Patrica happened to meet when Patricia was a sales person for a large Waste Hauler and Thomas was a contractor in need of a construction dumpster at a new site. When Patrica pulled up to the location in her new Chevy Lumina – which was burgundy inside – a blonde, very tan, broad shouldered man with khaki shorts and a short sleeved button down shirt with construction boots came out of the job trailer. The thought that came to Patrica’s mind was “Thank you Lord Jesus! She knew this was the man she was going to marry. Later on in their courtship she came to find out that when she opened up the car door that day and shook his hand “hello,” he also knew this was the women he was going to marry.
Corny. Improbable. And yet, the truth of how their love story began.
We were married a year and one month after we met and have been married now for over 25 years.
“We still say the best thing that has ever happened to the both of us.”
The reason I thought it was important to share the very beginning is because we often say we could not have made it to today with Toms double Cancer diagnosis if it weren’t for the very strong bond we had from the start. Don’t get me wrong – there were times were we ready to give up on one another, but fortunately it was never at the same time. One of us was always encouraging the other to keep going and keep fighting this invasion into our lives.
Since Toms cancer is non-curable but manageable we knew it was going to be a marathon – not a sprint – for the rest of our lives.
It’s been three years living in this world of Cancer. It strips you of just about everything you knew your life to be. You “live” Cancer. Cancer, if you let it, can and will control every aspect of you, your family, your faith, your friends, your dignity, your job, your financial security… I’m sure others reading this with any chronic illness could cite many many more instances that cancer and illness tries to take from you. You are not alone.
The details of our lives over the last three years are such a blur, especially at the beginning when we didn’t even have a phone call from an oncologist saying that “yes” Tom in fact has cancer. We instead received a phone call from the surgery scheduler to set up a time to have the port to be placed in Tom’s chest for the chemo drugs that were to be given to him. I could go on with what happened next with this particular health organization, and doctors, but what matters is the first lesson we learned: don’t ever do what the doctors tell you to do if it doesn’t feel right. Gut instinct was telling us get a second opinion, to ask questions, and to stand up for ourselves and our rights, but terror – it was shear terror to find out you have the big “C” – allowed Cancer to control us and our actions.
Our current oncologist and health facility is acceptable. We are grateful, don’t get me wrong, but we believe you need to be your own advocate for your health. It’s your body. It’s your mind. Know the drugs, ask for information, take someone with you to your appointments, have your doctor write down what he is explaining to you even if it is the spelling of the drug or procedure so you can go home and you or someone can help you understand what the drug is and what the side effects are. Don’t say “Yes” to anything until you fully do your research. Don’t let them “sell” you anything. Control Your Cancer.
It sounds so easy doesn’t it? But I have spent hours and hours on the phone, emails, etc, with doctors, schedulers, nurses, billing departments, and insurance companies trying to understand. We are grateful that I am able to spend my time doing all of these tasks that come with chronic illnesses while he tries to focus on his health and just living. Personally, I have found that speaking with a cost estimator for the facility and the insurance company has taken a lot of anxiety and stress away from the daily perspective. Being a caregiver, especially to the one you love most in this world can be draining, but spending all the extra time getting real answers is worth it.
Along our journey, we have found that integrating an acupuncture and herbalist can help tremulously for mind, body, and spirit. We have both regularly utilized a wonderful women who has truly enhanced the Cancer healing journey twofold over the last three years. Pain, swelling, mental stability… if you would name any aliment I bet she has helped us with it. Her office is a space of peace, love, and healing. We are so incredibly grateful for Jackie. She is a quite a contrast for us compared to traditional doctors. Her space provides us with our “healing safe place.” Always feel free to let the doctors know that you are seeking other alternatives to western medicine. Maybe they will take interest.
Tom is a warrior, he is worn yet keeps on fighting all the after effects of treatments. He has just recently joined the LiveStrong Program at our local YMCA which serves as great support for cancer patients and their families. The focus on exercise and sharing similar experiences with others has been very beneficial for us.
We both constantly try and find new ways to enjoy life. Tom is currently working on a model train layout and loves to puzzle. I have dug out my old sewing machine and it feels new again.
What’s most important now? Sunday drives, bike rides in the park, sitting on the deck, and deep breaths. It’s simple.
Cathartic. I love that word. I love our new life. I love my husband.
Peace and Love to all who have Cancer is their lives. You are all WARRIORS.
Pat and Tom’s story is far from over, and their endurance and fortitude deserve praise and recognition.
As Maya Angelou said: “you may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact it may be necessary to encounter the defeats so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
Much love and light to Pat and Tom, and to all cancer patients, survivors and their families.