After being diagnosed with endometrial cancer in 2011, Assunta went through it all: surgery, chemotherapy, and brachytherapy, a form of radiation that still has lingering side effects to this day. After a disappointing experience while receiving care at one hospital, she switched oncologists, choosing to undergo treatments and check ups at Mt. Sinai in New York City. During this time, most of her family did not live nearby, aside from her husband Phil.
As a result, Assunta’s friends and husband stepped up to the plate; her experience in receiving care illustrates the power of a small army of people making an extraordinary impact.
What was your main caregiving system and support team like?
I think all and all I managed well. My support system was a bit different. Since I live far away from family, friends took up the slack. My friend Dolores was my go-to for wig shopping and things like that. Amy, who was a casual friend and someone I hadn't known well, generously stepped up to the plate and called almost every day to see how I was, or if I needed something. When Phil was unable to take me to surgery, she kindly did and got me back home afterwards. She also helped me get through a challenging day – my first day of chemo.
My brothers visited as much as possible, and called every week. When we had to go back to our house upstate, our nephews helped open the house, offered their help if we needed it. Best of all: they brought pizza and laughs. My niece sent me a card at a vulnerable time, telling me to call on her if I needed her. Notes and cards should never be minimized.
How did your husband help step into the role as caregiver?
Phil went to all of the important visits to the doctors, which were a little more intimate than I would have liked, and asked all the necessary questions. He learned to help around the house, and I had to learn to accept his help. What was most important was that he adjusted his life to mine while I was sick and never complained.
I frankly am not the kind of person that likes lots and lots of people around when I'm unwell, but I felt loved and care for throughout the whole process.
What were the biggest takeaways after going through this whole experience?
First, I know I should have pursued the pain I felt after my first surgery that went on for far too long, and had that taken care of immediately. In retrospect, I do think a cancer group therapy would have helped as well. It would have been good to share some of my feelings; it's a very confusing, scary time when you face an illness like cancer, and it’s a bit of a lonely road. I'm sure talking about it helps.