July 12, 2017, was the beginning of the end. It was the day I finally started to see an end to my nearly yearlong fight with cancer coming. It marked my first chemotherapy treatment at the hospital I chose after becoming disillusioned with the doctors who first diagnosed and treated me. It was my first chemo treatment since my amazing new orthopedic surgeon removed an aggressive tumor from my femur and fixed my broken bone in a complex eight-hour surgery. After a few more chemo treatments and physical therapy sessions, this will all be the memory of a tragedy I overcame rather than a debilitating illness that controls my daily life.
I’ve gotten so much praise for being a strong woman, but I have to thank the Gutsy Broads who pushed me, supported me and carried me through what could have otherwise been a very dark time in my life.
I have an incredible family of women who look out for one another no matter what. Even as my 23-year-old sister, Arianna, battles her own health concerns, her contributions to my care never end. I often write her letters thanking her for the small and big ways she shares her heart with me: making me a fresh smoothie; cooking the perfect pancakes and eggs; driving me to an appointment; picking up my medicine, supplies or snacks on her way from work. Whenever I see her randomly wearing an article of my clothing, I don’t fret as much as some sisters would. I see it as her way of keeping me close to her. I borrow her things, as well, and feel a bit closer to her even when we are apart.
My mother is nothing short of my angel. She has missed countless days of work, shuffling me back and forth to doctors’ appointments. She has dried my tears and alleviated my fears. She has taken me to church and reassured me that faith can get me through any situation. Her unwavering strength in caring for two sick daughters and her own mother has empowered me. If she can still smile and laugh through all the pain, I can too.
My aunt, Cathy Aller, volunteered her beautiful home in New York’s Hudson Valley as soon as she saw the difficulty I had navigating my cozy NYC apartment when I was first diagnosed. That act of kindness lifted my spirits and brought my whole family together so we could heal in the best environment possible. When I became wheelchair bound, her home was already equipped with the ramp and grab bars I needed. She transformed her dayroom (the kind of room women on TV usually decorate with furniture no one is allowed to sit on) into a bedroom for me. I’ve been staying in her home much longer than we initially expected, but she has never made me feel unwelcome or any less loved.
My grandmother, June, has been battling cancer for many years now. First she beat breast cancer after a mastectomy. Then came stage-4 colorectal cancer, which later spread to her liver. Despite her own medical problems, she was my companion during many homebound days. She would get me out of bed for breakfast, and we would read, watch TV, or play games together. Spending time with her as I was first coping with the transition from “busy media professional” to “fall-risk cancer patient” helped keep my spirits high. If not for my unexpected bout with cancer, we never would have had all this time to spend together at this crucial stage in her life.
Early on in my treatment at my first NYC hospital, I began working with an art therapist named Sarah Yazdian. Through art, she helped me explore all the emotions I was feeling during weeks of chemo treatments. Her personality was so open and kind, making her one of the easiest people to confide in. She introduced me to a passion I now have for painting and collage making. It’s never about making the most beautiful or perfect art. It’s about uncovering a piece of yourself you may not have otherwise acknowledged. She always got me to dig beyond the surface, and even though we are both leaving the hospital that brought us together, we still keep in touch.
I also have to acknowledge another Gutsy Broad I met along the way, a physical therapist named Sara Baek. She came to my home once or twice per week to teach me new stretches and exercises that helped keep my muscles active and strong. Every time I became able to do some small task we usually take for granted, on my own, I would think back to the corresponding activity Sara taught me. She was so easygoing yet tough enough to push me to do my best and keep climbing to the next level of difficulty. I’ve since moved on to an outpatient therapy team, but I’ll never forget the foundation she gave me during my weakest days.
I can’t imagine how difficult my recovery would have been if I didn’t have this team of strong, caring women in my corner. The doctors may have done the healing work that gets all the glory, but behind the scenes, these were the people pulling me through the hard times physically, emotionally and spiritually. When I can finally say the word “remission,” I’ll be sure to thank the Sara(h)s and my family for all their love and support along the way.
Krystle M. Davis is a 32-year-old media professional from New York City. Follow her journey at “Wiggle Your Big Toe” blog, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.